Ronda Rousey, Art Hovhannisyan lead Glendale Fighting Club into main-event week

GLENDALE — On a sunny, sleepy Saturday morning, all looks calm outside the Glendale Fighting Club.

But a closer look inside the windowed walls of the Brand Blvd. training center reveals a bustling gym housing a pair of fighters putting in the final preparations for what are arguably the most monumental bouts in their burgeoning careers.

Taking center stage is Ronda Rousey, the first-ever and newly crowned Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s bantamweight champion. Rousey, an undefeated phenom inside the cage and fast-rising superstar outside of it, will headline Saturday’s UFC 157 “Rousey vs. Carmouche” pay-per-view on Saturday at the Honda Center in Anaheim in the organization’s first-ever women’s bout.

Just a night earlier live on Showtime’s “Shobox” series, Art “Lionheart” Hovhannisyan will challenge Alejandro Perez in the main event for the interim North American Boxing Assn. super featherweight interim title.

Indeed, these are busy days at the Glendale Fighting Club, as media and fan attention is at a high and, at the center of it all, trainer Edmond Tarverdyan is steadfast in his preparation for his charge’s title fights — and what will be the two biggest nights thus far for the corner gym.

“What I love to do is panning out,” Tarverdyan said. “I’m happy with what’s happening.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Friday and Saturday’s big nights could’ve actually been bigger for the GFC. Originally, UFC featherweight Manny Gamburyan was scheduled to fight Chad Mendes on the pay-per-view undercard of Rousey’s bout, but Gamburyan suffered fractures in his elbow and thumb and was forced to pull out of his fight. On the “Shobox” undercard, GFC boxer Gapo Tolmajyan was also a possibility to fight, but it “just didn’t happen,” said George Bastmajyan, Hovhannisyan and Tolmajyan’s manager.

“Funny thing is we were gonna have two [fights] on each card,” Bastmajyan said. “I think there’s a little less pressure now.”

Still, the buzz and the frenzy at the GFC has hardly subsided.

“Really crazy,” said Bastmajyan, who, in addition to his full-time job at Sony Studios and managing the GFC boxers, said he still tries to stop by the gym three to four times a week to help out. “Honestly, even at work, people are like, ‘Can I come to the gym and get a picture with Ronda?’ Even with Art, they’re like, ‘Can I come by and see the guy who’s fighting on Showtime?’

“The word is out now about the gym.”

But Tarverdyan, long praised by his fighters for his dedication and work ethic, maintains that he’s balancing it all well.

“It’s hectic, but I’m used to it,” Tarverdyan said. “They’re both ready to go. They’re looking very good.”

And for Tarverdyan, a 31-year-old Glendale High graduate who’s been running his own gym since the age of 16, while the buzz and recognition for the gym has been on the rise for a few years now, this week is definitely a milestone moment.

“It’s the main event on pay-per-view and it’s the main event on Showtime,” said Tarverdyan, who’s also a former muay Thai champion and sports a 2-0 mixed-martial-arts record. “I’m very happy.”

While the gym has housed its fair share of rising talent such as Gamburyan, Hovhannisyan and even undefeated boxer Vanes Martirosyan for a time, Rousey has clearly garnered the largest notice as her star is perhaps brighter than any other MMA fighter’s right now — male or female. Fan mail, onlookers, autograph seekers and even at least one random sparring volunteer pop into the gym along with a barrage of media from the hometown paper to Time Magazine, ESPN, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and film crews from HBO and the UFC.

“It’s hard to keep everybody out and say wait 'til training’s done to get Ronda’s autograph,” Tarverdyan said. “It’s a little more thought that we have to put in than when we were here alone.”

Just 26 and already hailed as the best female fighter in the world, Rousey has seemingly become an old pro at dealing with the attention. She seems to personify the “it” factor with her total package of athletic dominance, sharp tongue, good looks and winning smile. And it’s all combined to make her a media darling.

“It’s tough, but I’m kind of in the rhythm of it,” said Rousey, whose star began to rise substantially in the build-up to her March of 2011 Strikeforce title fight with champion Miesha Tate and truly caught fire after Rousey’s first-round win over her rival. “It’s really never gone away since the Miesha fight.

“I feel like this is just what my environment is.”

And, in large part, the environment has enveloped the Glendale Fighting Club, which, on a sleepy Saturday was a week away from concluding the biggest two-night span in its history.

“I think it’s the best gym,” said Hovhannisyan, who added he believes him and Rousey main-eventing cards on consecutive nights will be the start of a great year. “Then we begin the year with victories.”

While Rousey, the first-ever United States women’s medalist in judo, boasts a 6-0 record comprised of first-round finishes, prepares for opponent Liz Carmouche (7-2), Hovhannisyan (15-0-2, eight knockouts) will battle for his first title against Perez (16-3-1, 11 KOs) and, as usual, Tarverdyan will be in the corner for both.

“It’s fun, it’s exciting,” Tarverdyan said. “It’s what I love to do.”

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