GLENDALE — With victories hard to come by for Team Koscheck in the preliminary round of fights in the current season of "The Ultimate Fighter," Sako Chivichyan admitted that he felt added pressure when he entered the octagon to take on Team George St. Pierre's Dane Sayers in Wednesday night's episode.
"I was more nervous for the first fight [to gain entry into the house]," said the Glendale grappler, "but the type of pressure I felt during this fight was I didn't want to let my team down. The first fight, I was fighting for myself, this time I was fighting for my whole team."
And Chivichyan didn't let anybody on Team Koscheck down, as he used his superior grappling to grind out a two-round decision victory over a game Sayers.
"Obviously, I'm happy that I won, I'm pleased that I pulled off the win," Chivichyan said. "But I'm the type of fighter that when I fight, my No. 1 goal is to finish the fight.
"Dane was a tough guy, he was physically stronger than I thought [he would be]. I think I underestimated his wrestling, he was harder to take down than I thought."
In footage leading up to the fight, both Sayers and Chivichyan are showcased.
A conversation between Koscheck and Chivichyan is particularly revealing, as Chivichyan tells his coach about his life in his late-teens when he drank and partied too much and one particular night after, "being at the wrong place at the wrong time," was shot in the leg by "gangbangers."
"Psycho has been through a lot, you know, running the streets, drinking, partying, to being shot," Koscheck says during a confessional, referring to Chivichyan by his nickname. "He comes back and starts training and three years later he's on 'The Ultimate Fighter.' The kid has changed his life and I think it's mostly because of this sport. This sport will change you."
The show then segues into the coach's challenge, a seasonal tradition in which opposing head coaches go one on one in some sort of athletic endeavor. This time it's baseball, with the American Koscheck, although seemingly somewhat of a novice, holding a distinct advantage over the Canadian, St. Pierre, who says he's never swung a baseball bat. The two engaged in a game of over-the-line, more or less, earning different point totals for hitting pitches certain distances.
Koscheck urges his fighters to make some noise and they oblige, with Magakian being the most boisterous.
"No. 1 thing, that was after being in a house for four weeks," Chivichyan said, "so we were all excited just to be out of the house.
"We were cheering on Kos and getting on GSP. We were trying to have fun, nothing to be disrespectful."
Some of Magakian's "heckling" is frowned upon by members of Team GSP, but the Glendale fighter ensured it was all in fun and nothing personal. It's something, though it wasn't shown on camera, that Magakian went out of his way to explain to St. Pierre after the challenge ended.
"I'm good with him," said Magakian, who explained to St. Pierre that it was all in jest. "He's a great guy and I have a lot of respect for him."
Koscheck inevitably prevails, winning cash for himself and $1,500 for each of his fighters.
The fight is up next.
After the two touch gloves, they circle briefly before Chivichyan shoots in and gets caught in a guillotine.
Chivichyan patiently works his way free and ends up in top position. Sayers works his way up and the two clinch against the cage where they eventually separate. Chivichyan ends up the aggressor through most of the round, dictating where the fight goes and the pace. While they come sparingly, he also has the advantage in strikes landed in the opening round, his best punch coming on a right cross with roughly a minute to go. Shortly thereafter, Chivichyan fights off a takedown, but does so, in part, by grabbing the fence twice, which brings a touch of controversy, at the end of a very tight round.
Early in the second round, Chivichyan comes out as the proverbial house of fire.
He takes Sayers down with a judo throw and then lands a solid right when the two come up. Chivichyan eats a right himself only to land two of his own before securing a takedown. He smothers Sayers for more than a minute from top position, landing occasional ground-and-pound blows. Sayers works the fight back standing, but Chivichyan clinches and forces his opponent into the cage. The fight remains in the clinch for the rest of the round, with the most telling action coming when Chivichyan grabs the cage again and later clinches the round with knees to the inside of Sayers' knee.
After the round ends, the fight is still up in the air as to whether it will go to a sudden-victory third round.
"I was pretty confident with the way the fight was going that I won both rounds, but in this sport, anything can happen when you leave it to the judges," Chivichyan said. "I was ready to go out for a third round."
But it wasn't needed, as Chivichyan was awarded the decision. It wasn't the prettiest or most exciting fight, but it certainly got the desired result for the local combatant.
"When the fights get tough, you have to grind it out," Chivichyan said. "I wasn't gonna let my team down."
The episode isn't done quite yet, as the decision on which two fighters will compete for the wild card — a fight made between two losing fighters deemed to have earned a second chance to get back into the tournament — is announced. Team Koscheck's Aaron Wilkinson and Marc Stevens are given the second-chance slot. Magakian was one of the fighters in the running for the spot, but it came as no surprise that he didn't receive it due to the rib injury he was nursing at the time.
"I talked to Kos, he told me, 'You're injured, I don't want to see you lose again,'" Magakian said.
So, while it seems as though Magakian's run to become the next "Ultimate Fighter" has concluded, Chivichyan's is still going strong.