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Georgi Karakhanyan will head back to a place he calls “home” at Bellator 218 on Friday at the Winstar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma, his return hastened by one of the weirdest and most controversial nights of his 13-year career.
After being released by Bellator MMA for a second time, the Moscow-born Karakhanyan, 33, signed with Absolute Championship Berkut in March 2018. The relationship between fighter and organization seemed to be on sound footing heading into the second appearance on his contract at ACB 90 in November. However, as the first round of his encounter with featherweight prospect Timur Nagibin drew to a close, the relationship changed rather quickly. Karakhanyan controlled the match with his grappling and secured a guillotine choke with a little more than 10 seconds left in Round 1. With Nagibin seemingly drifting towards unconsciousness, Karakhanyan, a 36-fight veteran, asked referee Herb Dean to check to see if his counterpart’s hands had gone limp.
“When he looked at his hands,” Karakhanyan told Sherdog.com, “he stopped the fight right there.”
However, when Dean waved off the fight, it was clear Nagibin was neither asleep nor had he tapped. Confusion reigned, as the bell ending the round rang and brought the action to a momentary pause -- for everyone but Nagibin. “When they stopped the fight, I was talking to Herb, the bell rang and then that’s when that bitch punched me,” Karakhanyan said. After being unexpectedly slugged in the face, “Insane” laid prone on the mat for several seconds while Dean shuffled Nagibin away from the scene. Karakhanyan was so badly rattled from the illegal punch that he actually tried to wrestle one of his cornermen who had entered the cage to check on him.
Normally when situations like this arise, promoters prefer to proceed with caution if a fighter who has been fouled seems unfit to continue. However, Karakhanyan claims ACB officials urged him to move forward with the fight and appeared unhappy when he was awarded a disqualification because the damage inflicted on him was too great. According to Karakhanyan, once the arena emptied and the time came for him to receive his win bonus, he was pulled into a late-night meeting with ACB representatives who aired their grievances with him.
“I don’t have to get too much into details,” he said, “but they pretty much told me I should have fought, that I’m a pussy and if I was born in Russia I should have fought [on], [that] any Russian would have fought.”
The Treigning Lab export indicated that he tried to be professional when he asked for his bonus. ACB officials denied his request -- a denial that allegedly cost him a significant amount of money.
“I lost close to $45,000, so imagine putting all the effort in training and then not coming back with that. It’s just one of the worst feelings,” Karakhanyan said. “I’m glad I have two daughters, because if I didn’t, I was going to do something crazy. That’s the one thing that came to my mind [during the meeting] -- my two daughters -- and that’s the one thing that stopped me from doing crazy things.”
Following the event, ACB took to its Instagram account and stated that Karakhanyan’s contract had been “terminated” due to “unsportsmanlike behavior prior to the fight and during the fight” and for “simulating and trying to cheat the referee, which led to conflicts and brawls in the cage and in the arena.” His win was also changed to no-contest. Signing with ACB had represented a chance for Karakhanyan to return to his place of birth and ply his craft in front of his Russian friends and family. The fallout from ACB 90 has soured him on the organization and his homeland.
“Russia hasn’t changed,” Karakhanyan said. “They still control the Chechens and all the people out there. It’s still the same way. I had time to take my kids over there so they could see it, but there’s no way I am going to step foot in Russia ever [again] in my life.”
Nevertheless, Karakhanyan does see the plusses associated with fighting outside the United States and testing his skills abroad.
“It was a good experience for me to go out there and test [myself],” he said. “If I would have performed the same way I performed in Bellator, I would [have gotten] knocked out. I had to go out there with a different mindset, different training partners. I changed a lot of things. I got what I wanted from there. As a fighter, I wanted to know if I’m still [relevant in the sport]. If I lost, especially in Russia, then I would just hang the gloves up and say I’m done.”
Even with the positives, Karakhanyan issued a strong warning for any fighters thinking of signing on Absolute Championship Berkut’s dotted line.
“Make sure you don’t fight Chechen fighters, because they have their own judges there and they can change a decision in a second,” he said. “My best advice: Don’t go and fight there, because that place is controlled by mafia. Don’t do it.”
After his dismissal from ACB, Karakhanyan tested free agency, and there was interest from the Ultimate Fighting Championship. However, UFC officials told him a possible start with the promotion would not be likely until the summer. Having just lost out on a major win bonus, it was not an opportunity that interested him. Several weeks ago, Bellator offered him the chance to return against Nova Uniao standout John Teixeira da Conceicao. It was a pairing Karakhanyan liked, so he signed a new 18-month, four-fight deal to return to the company for the third time.
“Bellator to me is like my home,” he said. “This is the third time I’m going back, so I keep saying that third time is the charm. I’m very excited. That’s the first big promotion I signed with. I want to go out there and perform and put on a good fight for [Bellator President] Scott Coker.”
Yet as Karakhanyan knows, situations in the MMA world change fast, and his dance card was altered soon after he signed his contract.
“I was going to fight [Teixeira da Conceicao],” he said, “[and] then two days later, the [Bellator 218] main event fell apart.”
When he was presented with the opportunity to face featherweight contender Emmanuel Sanchez and avenge a previous defeat, Karakhanyan’s response was quick and to the point: “Oh, [expletive] yeah.” He will compete on just two weeks’ notice, and while he understands that it may not be an optimal way to start a new contract, he sees it as part of the sport and a chance that was too good to pass up.
“I mean, it is a short-notice fight,” Karakhanyan said. “I would like to have more weeks of training, but man, this is the fight game. If you get in the sport and you’re only training for camps, then you’re behind. [In] this sport, one day you’re up, one day you’re down, one day you can get a title shot, [another] day you won’t, so I’m taking whatever they throw at me.”
Karakhanyan has much more than vengeance at stake. He hopes this represents the start of a successful run that earns him a more lucrative deal in the near future. “I’m pretty sure with two good performances, I would like to extend my contract and do good things with [Bellator],” he said. Karakhanyan also views the showdown with Sanchez as an opportunity to earn a spot in Bellator’s 16-man featherweight grand prix, set to start in October. However, he believes he needs to perform well against the Roufusport standout to even garner consideration.
“I’ve got to put on a good [show],” Karakhanyan said. “I feel like I have a task in front of me, which is Sanchez. I’m just focused on him. If Bellator calls me on two days’ notice and says, ‘Hey, you want to be in the tournament, and you’re going to fight next week,’ I’m down. I’m always down to be in a tournament with the best.”