GLENDALE — Having fought their way through the Southern California mixed-martial-arts scene, working up the ladder at shows in the likes of Long Beach, El Monte and Ontario, Sako Chivichyan and Sevak Magakian, like most in their sport, aspired to one day make it to the grand stage of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
That day has come.
The two Glendale fighters have been selected to be part of the 28-fighter cast looking to fight its way into the house for the 12th season of Spike TV's and the UFC's "The Ultimate Fighter" reality show.
"It was like a dream come true," Chivichyan said of the opportunity.
The show wrapped filming in July, but due to contractual limitations, fighters were unable to talk about their involvement until today, when an official UFC/Spike TV press release confirmed all 28 cast members. The fighters themselves, having started the process with an open casting call in April in Charlotte, N.C., received news that they were selected in early June just before filming began in Las Vegas.
"I yelled," Magakian said of his reaction when he heard the news. "Actually, when I picked up [the phone], I said give me the good news.
"It's an unexplained feeling. … I've been watching all the seasons, it's like a dream. I've been watching thinking I could be there."
UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre and his future opponent, Josh Koscheck, will be the coaches on the show, which will feature two teams of seven lightweight fighters competing in a tournament format to crown the next "Ultimate Fighter." The season premiere is set to air on Spike on Sept. 15 with the live Las Vegas finale taking place on Dec. 4.
"[We] realize this is the beginning," Chivichyan said. "We're thankful for this opportunity.
"I think it's gonna be a great show."
The Ultimate Fighter is consistently among the top-rated shows on cable among men in the 18-34 demographic and through its 11 previous seasons has averaged more than 2.2 million viewers an episode, according to Spike TV.
Beginning in 2005, the show is credited with leading the MMA and UFC boom, as its live finale after the first year featured a now celebrated brawl between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar that peaked with 2.6 million viewers, more than had ever watched a UFC event. Since then, the show has become a standard on Spike, topping out at 6.1 million viewers tuning in to see internet sensation Kimbo Slice take on Roy Nelson in the 10th season in the fall of 2009.
The premise is that 16 fighters live together, disallowed any communication with the outside world with no computers, phones, television, etc., with their sole purpose to train and compete in elimination bouts as part of the tournament. The reward, in addition to television exposure and a chance to train with some of the best combatants and trainers in MMA, is a chance at making it to the UFC and a six-figure contract that goes to the winner. Until the first episode airs, however, it won't be known if either local fighter made it into the final 14, as the 28 who were selected competed on the first day with the winners gaining entry into the house.
For Chivichyan, it was his third time trying out for the show, which will feature all lightweights (155 pounds) this season. Previously, he had tried out as a middleweight (185) and traditionally competes at the welterweight limit of 170. But he cut "25 to 30 pounds" for a chance at stardom.
"I really wanted to get on the show," Chivichyan said. "I was trying to do everything to build a relationship, get recognition."
In the past, Magakian had sent in audition tapes, but never tried out in person.
The chances at being selected are steep enough, but Magakian and Chivichyan are friends who train together at Team Hayastan in Hollywood, Glendale's Main Event Gym, SK Golden Boys in Van Nuys and Glendale Fighting Club. Thus, both getting picked for the show in the same season was unexpected.
"It was surprising," Chivichyan said. "We have two different characters. We both have personalities that are different in good ways. I think it was good for the show."
They aren't the first local fighters on the show, either, as Manny Gamburyan, who trains in Glendale, and Roman Mitichyan, who live and trains locally, were selected for the fifth and sixth seasons, respectively.
"[Gamburyan] was telling us [after he was on the show] how hard it was mentally and emotionally. He was stressed out the whole show," Chivichyan says. "You can relate to it, but you can't step into their shoes until you're there."
Bound by the aforementioned contract stipulations, all the fighters must remained tight-lipped about show details and fight results.
"[It was] the best and worst experience of my life," Magakian said.
A Glendale High graduate, Magakian, 25, entered the show with an 8-3 record, having won seven of his last eight fights, with seven of his victories coming via first-round submission.
The 26-year-old Chivichyan is the younger cousin of Gokor Chivichyan, the coach at Team Hayastan and a legend in MMA and grappling circles. With a record of 5-0, the younger Chivichyan, who grew up in Hollywood but now lives in Glendale, began his career in 1999, but didn't fight again until January of 2009, beginning a year that saw him win four fights, finishing three of them.
The show has acted as a launching point for the careers of numerous MMA stars such as Griffin, Koscheck, Kenny Florian, Rashad Evans and Michael Bisping to name a few and both Chivichyan and Magakian are hoping it can do the same for their burgeoning careers.
If nothing more, it's taught them a bit about show business, as Magakian offered a cliffhanger.
"Wait to see what's gonna happen," Magakian said. "They're gonna be talking about those crazy Armenians."