Art of Adaptation

By Doug McKay Dec 3, 2013
Georgi Karakhanyan has won eight fights in a row, five of them finishes. | Photo: Andy Hemingway/

It is said that adaptation is one of the keys to survival. If that is true, then Georgi Karakhanyan will be around for a while.

It is an art he has taken great pains to master.

“MMA is the most unpredictable sport ever. It’s crazy. Anything can happen,” said Karakhanyan, who will face Team Alpha Male prospect Lance Palmer for the right to become the World Series of Fighting’s first featherweight champion in the WSOF 7 headliner on Saturday at the PNE Agrodome in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The event’s prelims will stream live to

Karakhanyan was not even supposed to compete on the card, let alone at its top line. However, the fates have a way of changing even the best-laid plans when it comes to life in the cage. Originally, Chris Horodecki was scheduled to fight Rick Glenn beneath an Anthony Johnson-Mike Kyle main event. Karakhanyan was told he would later take on the winner in a bout to crown the WSOF’s inaugural titleholder at 145 pounds. First, Horodecki withdrew with an injury, leading Karakhanyan to step in to challenge Glenn for the vacant belt. Then Glenn bowed out, with Palmer stepping in as a replacement. Not long after, Kyle suffered a broken toe, scrapping his showdown with Johnson and making Karakhanyan-Palmer the unlikely new headliner.

“As a fighter, you’ve got to be ready to adapt to any opponent,” Karakhanyan said. “Once that door locks, I like to perform and I don’t care who’s in front of me. I don’t care if it’s a Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion or a wrestling champion. At the end of the day, it’s MMA, not a wrestling match.”

Adaptation is nothing new for the Millennia MMA standout. Karakhanyan was forced to start developing that particular skill when he was 11 years old and his family moved to the United States from his native Moscow.

“When I moved from Russia to the U.S., it was hard and shocking,” he said. “Then I kind of grew up with it, and I was very happy I moved to the United States. When I fought in Japan and I came out to the U.S. flag, it was a cool feeling, a great feeling.”

Photo: Dave Mandel/

Palmer is 7-0.
Karakhanyan understands that part of adaptation involves carrying lessons from the past.

“I feel like living in Russia taught me to be mentally very tough because as a kid, you see crazy things in Russia, like people getting drunk and jumping off their buildings,” he said. “You’d see dead people just laying in the snow, and no one would care -- stuff like that.”

Karakhanyan first used that mental toughness in tandem with his athletic prowess on the soccer field, where he played as a professional for the San Diego Sockers, as well as for teams in Russia and Spain. After his soccer days reached an end, he began training in jiu-jitsu and started his professional career in mixed martial arts a scant six months later. The individual aspect of MMA appeals more to Karakhanyan than the team dynamic of soccer.

“Soccer is a team sport and if you lose, you can pick a defender or maybe a goal keeper to blame,” he said. “With MMA, you put in a lot of hours and a lot of training and if you lose, at the end of the day, it’s on you.”

Karakhanyan has compiled a 22-3-1 record and finds himself in the midst of an eight-fight winning streak. He has not lost since falling to Patricio Freire by technical knockout under the Bellator MMA banner in March 2011. The key to his current run: adaptation, of course.

“When I fight, I don’t go in there and specifically say I’m going to do this or do that,” Karakhanyan said. “The day I do that, I’m going to lose. I take my time, and any opening I get, I try to hurt the guy in front of me.”

Though Karakhanyan prioritizes a well-rounded approach to training, the fact that Palmer was a four-time All-American wrestler at Ohio State University is certainly not going unnoticed.

“Well, of course, he comes from a wrestling background,” Karakhanyan said. “I watched his last few fights, so I know what he’s going to bring. He’s probably going to think my wrestling’s weak or try to grind me out for all five rounds, but that’s not going to happen.”

Wrestling is a part of Karakhanyan’s game upon which he has focused of late, given that his last fight was against Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Waylon Lowe -- a three-time NCAA wrestling champion at the University of Findlay. Karakhanyan submitted Lowe with a first-round guillotine choke.

“I feel like I’ve had back-to-back wrestling camps,” he said. “I trained for Waylon, and now I have another great wrestler. I’ve focused on wrestling, but I don’t forget my strengths like my standup and my jiu-jitsu. I’m going to use it all.”

Karakhanyan believes the ability to morph into a fighter that can beat an opponent at his own game gives him the mental edge he needs to come out on top.

“When I get a top position, it doesn’t matter if it’s a division one wrestler or a jiu-jitsu champion,” he said. “I stay on top, and I’ve learned how to break fighters. That’s my strength.”


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