Karo Parisyan file photo: Scott Clark | Sherdog.com
Karo Parisyan hit rock-bottom on Nov. 19, 2009.
On that day, an anxiety-ridden Parisyan hastily withdrew from a bout against Dustin Hazelett at UFC 106 in Las Vegas. With only two days left before the event, the promotion was forced to scrap the featured welterweight bout from one of its last pay-per-view events of 2009.
UFC President Dana White didn’t take the news lightly.
“Karo Parisyan has f---ed over the UFC, the fans and his opponent again!!! He will not be fighting Saturday or ever again in the UFC!!” White posted to his million-plus followers on Twitter.
White’s statement, which was quickly chased by rumors that Parisyan was battling a painkiller addiction, seemed to seal the Armenian-born fighter’s fate with the promotion. Luckily, not all things in MMA are final.
Parisyan confirmed his return to the Octagon with MMAFighting.com on Thursday. He’ll face Dennis Hallman at UFC 123 on Nov. 20 at the Palace at Auburn Hills outside Detroit, Mich. -- the first bout of a three-fight contact with the promotion.
The 28-year-old fighter -- who debuted for the promotion at UFC 44 in September 2003 as one of its highest decorated judokas -- said the new deal manifested from multiple conversations he’s had with White over the last 10 months.
“Somehow I knew I’d get back in, at least I hoped I would,” said Parisyan. “What Dana said was in the heat of the moment. He felt we were friends and that I’d backstabbed him. Thank God he changed his mind.”
Parisyan said the conversations -- sometimes on the phone, sometimes via text -- pointed him in the right direction.
“He told me to get a fight under my belt,” said Parisyan, who was once ranked fifth in the nation in his judo division and has six junior national titles. “He told me to get my life back on track and that’s what I did.”
In July, Parisyan nabbed a second-round submission win over Ben Mortimer at Impact Fighting Championships 1 in Brisbane, Australia.
Parisyan, who owns Octagon wins over Nick Diaz and former titleholder Matt Serra, denies his cancelled back-to-back UFC fights (he also pulled out of a fight last-minute against Yoshiyuki Yoshida at UFC 88 due to a back injury) hinged on an alleged substance abuse problem.
Those rumors seemed fueled by a nine-month suspension that Parisyan received from the Nevada State Athletic Commission in March 2009 after he tested positive for the banned painkillers Hydrocodone, Hydromorphone and Oxymorphone following his split decision win over Dong Hyun Kim at UFC 94 in January 2009. That decision was eventually changed to a no-contest and Parisyan was handed a hefty $32,000 fine, which crippled him financially.
Doubts over Parisyan's stability heightened when Neil Melanson, one of Parisyan's teammates at Xtreme Couture MMA in Las Vegas, commented on his alleged dependency with pain medication directly following the fighter's decision to bow out of the Hazelett bout.
“My issues had to do with my anxiety problems and panic attacks,” said Parisyan. “Painkillers were thrown out there, but that wasn’t it. People made these accusations because I’d been popped for medication (months before). I’d taken two pain pills the morning of my fight for a torn hamstring and didn’t think much of it.”
Parisyan said he alerted an NSAC official that he’d taken the medication after the bout when he was asked for a urine sample. Parisyan said he was told it wouldn’t be an issue as long as he had documentation from his physician.
Parisyan didn’t have a prescription for the ingested pills -- later identified as Percocet -- which the fighter said had been given to him by a friend. Thinking the pills were the same as what he’d been prescribed, Parisyan said he was shocked to get the call a month later telling him that he’d be disciplined for it.
“Every fighter I know takes pain medication like it's M&Ms,” said Parisyan. “I was the unlucky one who only took it the day of the fight without even thinking about it.”
Parisyan said he’s sought help for his conflicted psyche, which he knows will be an ongoing concern for him.
“I spoke to a psychologist and he pointed out that I’ve been fighting since I was 14 years old,” said Parisyan, “and that I had this balloon filling in my stomach with all my fight anxiety over the years. That’s what I’ve been addressing and working on.”
On Monday, Parisyan begins his training camp for his UFC 123 bout in November. He hopes to split time between Xtreme Couture MMA and Big John McCarthy’s Ultimate Training Academy in Valencia, Calif., which became a haven for him after his abrupt departure from the UFC. Parisyan said he’s also mended his relationship with Melanson, who continues to teach at the Las Vegas gym and will likely aid him in his training camp for the submission-savvy Hallman.
Parisyan wants skeptical fans to allow him the second chance White and the UFC have given him.
“I think the UFC knows I still have something I can accomplish in the cage,” said Parisyan. “They know that I can become a contender again and I will.”
Update: This article was modified to correct the date of UFC 106 to Nov. 21, 2009.