For more than a month’s time, Edmond Tarverdyan will be firmly entrenched in Las Vegas.
He’ll be doing what he loves: Training fighters and cornering combatants. But it’s hardly going to be a vacation.
For the first time in the history of “The Ultimate Fighter” show, the opposing coaches will be women, with Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s bantamweight champion “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey opposing eventual title challenger Cat Zingano.
Right next to Rousey, as he has been throughout her meteoric professional MMA career, will be Tarverdyan.
“It’s all about being there for Ronda,” said Tarverdyan, who leads Rousey and a stable of other mixed-martial-arts fighters and boxers training at his Glendale Fighting Club gym. “[The show is] gonna be great, I know it’s gonna be good. The ratings will be high.
“It’s gonna build up a big fight.”
While the show will no doubt build up the impending and much-anticipated title tilt between Rousey and Zingano set for December with episodic anticipation, it will also do as it has for the past 17 seasons, featuring a tournament to crown the next Ultimate Fighter.
UFC hopefuls will vie for a company contract while dealing with the reality TV environment of being confined to a house with teammates and potential opponents for roughly six weeks and being largely closed off from the outside world. Of course, this coming season there are two mammoth twists, as, along with Rousey and Zingano being the first women’s coaches, the cast of contenders will be both women and men taking part in separate tournaments, but living in one house and training together.
“Everything’s gonna be new with the girls fighting girls and the guys fighting guys,” said UFC fighter Manny Gamburyan, Rousey’s longtime friend and fellow GFC trainee. “I’m excited.”
On Monday, Tarverdyan said the journey will begin, as the longtime trainer will head Rousey’s coaching staff along with Gamburyan, Andy Dermenjian and Marina Shafir.
“We have a good team,” Tarverdyan said. “We know we don’t have a lot of time with the fighters. We know we’re not going to be there to change anybody’s style.”
Rousey, who owns a 7-0 record, has finished all seven of her fights via first-round armbar submission and comes from a much-ballyhooed judo background as a former Olympic bronze medalist. The first American to medal in the sport, Rousey’s MMA career has been one of abundant firsts. After becoming the last Strikeforce women’s champion, she became the first UFC women’s champion and successfully defended the belt on a historic UFC 157 card on Feb. 23 in which she won the company’s first women’s match against Liz Carmouche.
Dermenjian has a 4-1 MMA record and is a celebrated wrestling coach who has helped in the MMA training of Rousey, Tarverdyan, Gamburyan and many more.
Shafir is easily one of the most promising prospects in the amateur ranks of women’s MMA. She sports a 3-0 amateur record with three first-round submission wins, also by armbar. Rousey’s close friend and roommate, Shafir moved to Southern California this year and has been training under Tarverdyan at GFC following a decorated judo career.
Gamburyan possesses a judo background, a powerful right hand and a plethora of experience on the big stage, as he’s fought eight times in the UFC octagon and four times under the World Extreme Cagefighting banner, which folded into the UFC. In addition, Gamburyan (12-7) has the experience of being part of “The Ultimate Fighter” previously, having been a member of the season five cast, of which he emerged as a tournament finalist.
“I’m kind of excited going back,” Gamburyan said.
For Tarverdyan, a Glendale High graduate who began running his own gym at 16, it will be a new experience, though. And one in which he will look to help Rousey lead her team of aspiring fighters, while also worried about what’s left behind in Glendale.
“I give them everything I have,” said Tarverdyan, 31, of his fighters. “Sometimes I wish I could balance it better.”
Currently, Tarverdyan’s stable of fighters includes Rousey, Gamburyan and Shafir, along with boxers Art Hovhannisyan, Gabriel Tolmajyan and now Vic Darchinyan.
And as notoriety for Tarverdyan’s prowess as a trainer and cornerman and the GFC’s name grow, in large part due to Rousey’s success and stardom, more and more UFC fighters and top-class boxers are stopping by for training sessions and pointers. Uriah Hall, a finalist in last season’s “The Ultimate Fighter,” trained at GFC for a spell after his time on the show. Most recently, Paulie Malignaggi has been putting in work at GFC, as the World Boxing Assn. welterweight champion prepares for his title defense against Adrien Broner.
Coaching a new group of fighters on “TUF,” along with the focus that will no doubt come with appearing on the show is likely to attract even more fighters to Tarverdyan.
“It’s already been crazy,” Tarverdyan said.
Malignaggi was at GFC on Thursday afternoon along with Tolmajyan, who was preparing for an upcoming bout on ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights” against Mark Davis in a co-feature bout July 5 in Connecticut.
“He’s looking very good, very excited,” Tarverdyan said. “He’s looking well.
“Gapo’s gonna win the fight.”
Tarverdyan said “TUF” tapings are set to conclude July 3, leaving him just enough time to make it for Tolmajyan’s bout. In the meanwhile, John Bray will take over a majority of the training duties along with George Bastmajyan, Tolmajyan’s longtime manager and Tarverdyan’s close friend and colleague.
Like many coaches and fighters before him, Tarverdyan, a husband and father of two small children, will also leave his family behind.
“I hope they grow up and they understand,” Tarverdyan said. “I’ve been missing out already, but I know they’re in good hands; mom’s taking care of them well.”
Adding to the balancing act for Tarverdyan is making sure Rousey is maintaining a regime that has put her at the top of the women’s MMA world. Tarverdyan, who said he and the coaching staff will be flown out to Las Vegas on Monday and will stay in two apartments close to the UFC training center, intends to make sure Rousey is able to get in training for herself and her impending fight with Zingano in December to avoid any side effects of a long layoff between fights.
“We’re staying sharp,” Tarverdyan said. “She’s staying sharp in the gym. We know we’re gonna have a big layoff.”
With as much as Tarverdyan has on his plate, he said he hadn’t yet even thought about having a camera crew around every day.
“Actually, I haven’t even thought about it, I might be nervous,” Tarverdyan said. “More thought is going on my fighters that are here [in Glendale]. I’m making sure they’ll get the training they’ll need. All that’s more of an issue than cameras in front of my face.
“The camera stuff, it’s mostly gonna be focused on Ronda.”
And Tarverdyan’s focus will now turn to the next fight up, an approach taken in a gym in which big fights are becoming more commonplace than ever before.
“We focus more on whoever has the next fight,” Gamburyan said.
It’s an approach that will no doubt lend itself well to “The Ultimate Fighter” tournament format in which multiple fights occur during a week.
“To be honest, not be cocky, I’m used to it cause I was there before,” Gamburyan said of the cameras and the show’s environment.
That said, Gamburyan can offer some advice to those on Rousey’s team.
“Just come prepared, come ready, cause it’s gonna be tough,” said Gamburyan, citing having to live in the house void of cell phones, television and communication to the outside world as some of the biggest obstacles. “You gotta be prepared cause it’s reality TV, the camera’s gonna see everything.
“It is what it is, at the end of the day, you have to be who you are.”
And right now, Tarverdyan is simply being what he’s been for roughly half his life, only this time, the tireless trainer will do it all in front of a worldwide audience on a reality TV show.
The 18th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” is set to premiere on Sept. 4 on Fox Sports 1. For more information, visit www.ufc.com.