Georgi Karakhanyan ~ The Humble And The Insane
One of the four recently announced featherweight signings by the Chicago-based Bellator Fighting Championships, Russian-born Armenian fighter Georgi "Insane" Karakhanyan aims to put his stamp on the division as he competes in the promotion's promising second season. The 12-week tournament, debuting April 8, is set up to determine the number one contender for each of Bellator's four weight classes (featherweight, lightweight, welterweight, and middleweight) and will conclude with four respective championship bouts.
Karakhanyan (Kah-ra-kahn-yan) is intently focused on a title contest with the current featherweight champion, Joe "The Hammer" Soto, and the three elimination fights that will get him there. MMA Spotís C.M. Holden recently sat down with Karakhanyan (12-1-1) to discuss a variety of topics, including his recent signing with Bellator, his thoughts on the featherweight division, and his career as a mixed martial artist.
Born in Moscow, Russia, not much about his location or upbringing pointed to a career in combat sports as a likely destination for Karakhanyan. In fact, his childhood and adolescence were fairly pedestrian. According to him, "I'm just a normal person, a humble guy.Ē So what set the stage for the young fighter to become such a successful mixed martial artist on the threshold of becoming a star?
Two converging circumstances got the ball rolling for Karakhanyan: his father, a karate black belt, and an already apparent competitive drive as a child. Following in his father's footsteps, he began studying karate at an early age. "I did it when I was around 5 or 6, I did it for around two years and then I stopped. It was good, my dad wasn't my teacher. I learned a lot of discipline." But, the effort was short-lived. "I just lost interest in Karate. I wasn't taking it that seriously and I started playing soccer."
Karakhanyan proved more earnest in his approach to soccer. His competitiveness lead to great success as a youth; he reached as far as the professional level, and nearly to the Olympics. Nearly, however, wasn't satisfying enough for the fighter-to-be. "If I was extremely good at soccer I would be playing somewhere in Europe, for Barcelona, Real Madrid, or the top teams. I was doing good to the point where I played for the San Diego Sockers and ODP, the Olympic Development Program. So, it was okay, you know." Lacking the possibility of being the very best, he began to shift his interests.
With relatively few professional soccer players making a similar transition, Karakhanyan perhaps gives his former peers too much credit, and himself too little, in making the leap to MMA. On whether other soccer pros could compete in the cage, he stated, "Yeah, it depends on the person. You kick the ball a lot, in fighting you kick your opponent a lot. They would just have to work on their hands and wrestling and jiu-jitsu."
Not mentioning the fact that "just" learning striking, wrestling, and jiu-jitsu are formidable tasks in themselves, especially at a competitive level, Karakhanyan did admit that the added element of pain could be an impediment. "Soccer players sometimes fake to get a yellow card. I'm guessing no [most would not like to deal with the pain]. There might be some soccer players that don't care about pain like I do."
Like most professional athletes, what brought Karakhanyan to karate, soccer, jiu-jitsu, and finally MMA was the competitiveness, and the thrill of victory. Winning a fight, however, does not have a parallel in terms of the intensity of the feeling experienced. "It's kinda similar. When you score a goal, you get the butterfly feelings. But winning a fight is a different story, you put so much time and effort into training and when you win that fight it's a great feeling."
Making the transition out of professional soccer, Karakhanyan found Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and quickly moved to professional fighting just six months later. Like many fighters just beginning their careers, he worked full-time while training for his early fights. "When I started I was working. I used to do construction, digging trenches, and stuff like that. I think it was after my fifth fight, I did it full-time."
The work hasn't exactly stopped, Karakhanyan added, "Right now I still work, my work is teaching kids and law enforcement agency guys. I'm still working, but it's involved with my fighting."
This is an important distinction. Being able to focus entirely on training and competing is an uncommon luxury that allows athletes the gains necessary to perform at an elite level. "It's really important. There is so much you need to learn in this game, so you need to put in a lot of time. It's really important."
With a record of 12-1-1, Karakhanyan has put in that time, and a lot of it has been spent shuffling between multiple MMA organizations on the regional level. Joining the growing ranks at Bellator provides the 24-year-old with the security, stability, and national exposure he has yet to experience in his young career.
"I'm really excited. Last year Bellator did a really good job with all the fights. I was really shocked watching the featherweights and even the lightweights, and with that submission of Toby Imada against Jorge Masvidal, it was really exciting. I personally think Bjorn [Rebney, Bellator's CEO] is a really smart man. With the three channel TV deal he has with Fox Sports, NBC, and Telemundo, it's really good exposure; not just for me but for other fighters to show our skills. It's not on pay-per-view, you know," Karakhanyan exclaimed.
Without some form of national television coverage, it is nearly impossible for any fighter to advance and improve their career. With this in mind, Karakhanyan jumped at the chance to perform in front of a live TV audience. "As soon as I listened, I was like 'yeah, I need to go there.' It's important to have a good place, organization to fight for. Because right now, the top ones are just UFC, WEC, and Strikeforce. I think Bellator is going to take over this year, they are really strong."
That being said, the tournament format implemented by Bellator is no walk in the park. Aside from the possibility of losing one of the three scheduled bouts on the way to the title shot, fighting once a month presents the very real possibility of suffering an injury severe enough that it would force a fighter out of the competition........