Having been in the Ultimate Fighting Championship and beyond to the tune of 20 mixed-martial-arts bouts in addition to far too many jiu jitsu competitions to number, Alberto Crane still comes off as very much a calm and cool customer, with an easy, soft-spoken and mild-mannered personality.
That’s when he’s not cornering Jared “The Jackhammer” Papazian, though.
“Jared doesn’t make it easy,” says Glendale’s Crane, who trains Papazian at Gracie Barra Burbank. “He’s always fight of the night, whether it’s a small show or the [Ultimate Fighting Championship].”
On the roller-coaster ride that’s been his rise to the UFC stage, one would be hard-pressed to find a bout that’s been easy for Papazian, that wasn’t nailbiting for his corner and, perhaps most importantly, wasn’t thrilling for those in the seats around the cage.
“He’s an extremely entertaining fighter,” says Papazian’s manager and cornerman Darin Harvey. “He never makes it easy on us. You never know what’s gonna happen.”
Nobody’s sure just exactly what’s going to happen when Papazian (14-7) enters the octagon on Friday to face off with Dustin Pague (10-5) live on Fuel TV as part of the UFC on FX 3 live preliminary card at the Bank Atlantic Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. But Papazian does offer up at least one assurance.
“As long as he comes in bangin’, I’ll come in bangin’ and I know we’ll have another fight of the night,” he says.
As a trip to Florida and a second fight under the bright UFC lights draws near, the only fight and the only fighter Jared Papazian is looking for is Dustin Pague. Indeed, much has changed since a scrap with 10 guys fortuitously began his MMA days.
“I got jumped by 10 guys,” says Papazian, an El Camino Real High product who still makes the trek from West Hills to Burbank everyday. “I started training at 17 years old, just to learn to fight, not to get into it, but it became a passion.”
It was a passion that quickly became a professional career, but one seemingly on the fast track to being that of a journeyman. On the regional Southern California circuit, Papazian was quickly thrown into fights in which he was overmatched, he never fought for a promotion more than once and he was developing a reputation as a guy who talked a lot of trash.
“I had a manager that didn’t care. I had a manager that just took money,” Papazian says. “I didn’t really have a home gym or anything.”
One example of Papazian’s early tribulations came when he signed on to fight Karen Darabedyan, a young Glendale fighter known for his all-around skills. While Papazian was 2-0 and Darabedyan was 3-1, the latter still had far more fighting experience to his name. Still, that didn’t stop Papazian from throwing plenty of smack the way of Darabedyan.
“He’s changed a lot,” says Darabedyan, who’s now friends with Papazian and has trained with him often. “Back then, when all of this happened, I didn’t know him. He talked a lot of trash.
“From the person I saw at the weigh-ins and before the fight to the person I know now, he’s changed  degrees.”
Papazian was submitted by Darabedyan in the first round and was submitted in his next bout as well. He then won two straight, before losing two straight, as his career had begun to ebb and flow. But things had begun to change for the better, as Papazian got rid of his first manager and Harvey took over the navigation of his career in 2009.
One of Harvey’s first acts was to introduce Papazian to Crane, a Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt and former world champion who currently owns a 15-5 MMA record and is a two-time former UFC veteran.
“I knew he needed to work on his jiu jitsu,” Harvey says. “I saw that he had the heart, he just didn’t have the skills. Now he does and he’s only getting better.”
Crane’s first impression of Papazian was much the same.
“He was a stand-up [fighter], he had no ground,” Crane says. “He didn’t have the right people around him.”
While Crane’s jiu jitsu is seen as being among the best in the sport of MMA, Papazian credits his mentor in his approach of not trying to force him into being a ground specialist, but working with him to better his grappling defense. Slowly, but surely, however, Papazian’s skills have developed to the point that he’s now comfortable if the fight goes to the canvas.
“He’s changed technically a million percent,” Harvey says. “The fights that he won were won on heart, not on technique. Now he’s got the technique to go with the heart.”
Along with Papazian’s development as a fighter, so to came an overall maturation.
“They were teaching me to be more humble, more of a team player,” Papazian says. “Before, I would come in with more of a chip on my shoulder.”
It opened up more doors for Papazian, as he quickly began to train with a who’s who of local fighters at locales such as SK Golden Boys in Van Nuys, Team Hayastan in Hollywood and the Glendale Fighting Club. And, good results followed.
Papazian was able to string together a run of five straight victories during 2010, a year in which he fought seven times and emerged with six victories. His victorious run ended with a King of the Cage championship loss to Jimmie Rivera. However, the bout began his 2011 fighting year, one in which he would go to battle in three King of the Cage title bouts and go to decision in all three, including a razor thin victory against Abel Cullum in June of 2011 in which Papazian claimed the organization’s flyweight crown.
"[Crane] comes out, his voice is done,” Papazian recalls of the fight. “That’s what saved the fight was me just listening to him scream defend the takedowns.”
The Cullum victory and a subsequent title defense over Marvin Garcia highlighted a year in which Papazian went 3-1 and fought 90 minutes’ worth of nonstop action.
“An hour and a half of fight time — just scrapping,” Crane says. “Nobody does that. Talk about the fighting spirit.”
While many prospective UFC fighters earn their entrance into the organization on the heels of impressive knockouts and submission finishes, it’s quite clear that Papazian earned his way in with his tenacity — both in the cage and out of it.
“It’s the truth. That’s what’s got him here,” says Crane of Papazian’s ability to put on entertaining fights. “That’s what’s gotten him here is his heart. [And his] balls and guts. And the skills are coming.”
As the wins kept coming, Papazian persisted in calling upon Harvey to call upon the UFC, in particular matchmaker Sean Shelby, as often as possible in the hopes of earning a spot with the organization.
“I think at the end of the day, the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” Harvey says. “He was driving me nuts. Every time he drove me nuts, I drove Sean nuts.”
Papazian delivered a simple message, but it was one he repeated ad nauseam.
“I always put on a show, I always come out guns blazing, just give me a shot, just give me a shot,” Papazian recites.
Eventually, opportunity came knocking and Papazian knocked back.
He gladly accepted a bout on short notice against the highly regarded Mike Easton on Jan. 20 as part of the UFC on FX debut card. In front of a live worldwide audience on the main card, Papazian didn’t disappoint as he and Easton went back and forth in a high-paced donnybrook. The bout ended with Easton (12-1) nabbing a close, majority decision.
Perhaps more importantly, though, it resonated with fans, who were up in arms that the combatants weren’t awarded the card’s fight of the night bonuses to the point that UFC President Dana White received so much feedback on Twitter that he wrote out bonus checks to both fighters.
“He was a man of his word,” Papazian says of White.
So too was Papazian when it came to his outlook on fighting.
“It’s important [to win], but I’d rather come out guns blazing and put on an entertaining fight and lose than win a boring fight as a lay-and-pray fighter,” Papazian says. “I want people to want to watch me fight.”
Plenty more will watch the now 24-year-old Papazian fight again when he squares off with Pague come Friday night.
Win or lose, those surrounding Papazian believe this is only the beginning for the young 135-pound brawler.
“He’s right up there now and he isn’t even close to peaking,” Harvey says. “He wants it so bad.”
Though it’s only natural to speculate about just where Papazian can go with his burgeoning career, it’s rather amazing to look back at where he’s come from already.
It really wasn’t all that long ago that he was a teenager just looking to learn how to fight.
And it wasn’t long after that he was seemingly on the wrong track of a professional career.
“He would be retired by now,” says Harvey on Papazian’s prospects had he not changed his career path. “He would have more losses than wins.”
But along with Harvey, Crane followed. With them, Papazian’s found a manager with his best interests in mind and a lead trainer that’s now provided a home base at Burbank Gracie Barra and the guidance he’s needed.
“I just have a great support system,” Papazian says. “It’s nice to have a home, just be able to stay in one place.”
On top of that, Papazian is quick to point out that he’s always had the support of mom, Landi, and dad, Edwin. Through his ascent to being a UFC fighter, he’s still found shelter under their roof, an aspect that’s allowed him be a full-time fighter.
Through it all, Papazian has seemingly improved himself in more ways than one.
“He’s changed a lot,” Darabedyan says. “He’s very humble now, he’s a very good friend of mine. Overall, as a fighter and a person, he’s changed a lot.
“He fights with a lot of heart. He’s got as much heart as anyone I’ve ever seen in MMA. He goes on and on.”
It’s that heart that has earned him his shot with the UFC and it’s that heart that has endeared him to those who surround him and the growing numbers who cheer him.
“I’m just a fighter at heart,” Papazian says.
Once a training nomad going from gym to gym backed by lackluster management, Papazian has surrounded himself with people he can count on who have aided him in becoming the standout fighter he can be. Oddly enough, he’s found the stability he needed, while taking everyone on the wild ride that has thus far been his fighting career.
“When it counts, he’s there. Fight time, he’s an animal,” Crane says. "[When Papazian fights] it’s a tough, tooth-and-nail spectacle. It keeps you on the edge of your seat.”
Indeed, Papazian has put himself right where he wants to be. He has discovered foundation alongside Harvey, Crane and his teammates. He has found, fought and scrapped his way into the ranks of the UFC. And he’s ready to fight to stay there.
“This is where I want to be,” Papazian says. “This is the major leagues, they treat me well. This is where I want to be and I’m gonna stay.
“I’m gonna be in the UFC and I’m gonna be a champion.”