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When he left Bellator MMA in January 2018, Georgi Karakhanyan never expected to be back. The Moscow-born Armenian-American was leaving the promotion for the second time, heading to Russia to fight in Absolute Championship Berkut.
However, things didn’t work out in ACB, to put it mildly. At ACB 90 last November, Karakhanyan was part of one of the most controversial matches of 2018. His opponent, Timur Nagibin, punched Karakhanyan in the face seconds after referee Herb Dean stopped the fight, believing Nagibin had submitted to Karakhanyan’s guillotine choke. The now-disqualified Nagibin claimed that Karakhanyan had told Dean, falsely, that he had tapped. A few weeks later, the promoter overturned the fight result to a no-contest and gave Karakhanyan his walking papers for good measure. In the wake of the firing, Karakhanyan decided to come to Bellator for a third time.
“I still had four fights left with them, but they let me go because of the last incident that happened,” Karakhanyan said to Sherdog.com. “They didn’t pay me my win bonus and they thought they were right, so they decided to let me go. That’s why I went to Bellator. I keep saying third time is a charm as this is the third time I am going back. I’m pretty happy to be there and I know they are having those tournaments, so I am very excited.”
Karakhanyan is back and ready to make a statement in his newest stint in Bellator, but little did he expect his return fight in the promotion would be the main event. Better yet for “Insane,” he gets a chance to rematch Emmanuel Sanchez, to whom he lost by majority decision at Bellator 170 in January 2017.
“I was originally going to fight, I don’t know if I was going to be on the undercard of that show, but I was going to fight John Macapa,” Karakhanyan said. “They called me and said ‘Hey the main event, Sanchez’s opponent got injured and we want you to step in.’ I was like ‘Hell yeah.’ We negotiated a little bit and came to an agreement and here I am fighting in the main event against Sanchez.”
The opportunity to headline on Friday night against Sanchez is a dream come true, and Karakhanyan is confident the outcome will be completely different from the first bout. “I thought I won that fight but the judges didn’t see it that way,” he said. “I just didn’t fight good man, I wasn’t fighting my fight and I wasn’t happy with my performance. This time around it is a little different. I just hope they think I was the same person, so this time will be different.
“It is going to play out how I want it to play out,” he added. “Sanchez likes to come forward and throw a lot of combinations and play his stuff. I just have to go out there and do what I do and do what I did in Russia. I have a lot of ways I can beat Sanchez. I just have to take my time and perform.”
After a difficult year in the sport, Karakhanyan sees his new Bellator contract and unexpected main-event slot as a sign of good things to come. “It means a lot. It tells me the company believes me,” he explained. “They put us in the main event for a reason. It is weird, four weeks ago I had nowhere to sign and I signed with Bellator, they give me a fight and now I am the main event. It is crazy, the fight game is crazy. One day you can be [up], one day you can be down.”
Karakhanyan is confident he has what it takes to get his hand raised, and can’t wait to show it come Friday night. He knows a win is important to earning the title shot he so desires, but recognizes that is still a long way off. “Personally, I need to beat a few more guys,” he concluded. "A win over Sanchez will just give me personal satisfaction after how the first fight ended. This is just for me. As far as title contention, if it comes it comes. If not, I am just worried about how I fight.”