For the first time in a long time, UFC and Mixed Martial Arts superstar Ronda Rousey will not be attendance for a fight that features undefeated super featherweight boxer, Art Hovhannisyan, her stablemate and good friend who faces Alejandro Perez in the main event Friday, Feb. 22, on ShoBox: The New Generation live on SHOWTIME® (11 p.m. ET/PT, delayed on the West Coast).
Rousey would like to be there, like always, but she has a fight of her own the next night against Liz Carmouche at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Her weigh-in is the same day as Hovhannisyan’s fight.
“If I wasn’t fighting on Saturday, I’d definitely be going to Art’s fight,’’ said Rousey, the first female fighter signed by the UFC who’ll be making her highly anticipated debut for the organization in the main event against Carmouche. “But Friday is a fighting day for me. It’s the day of the weigh-in.’’
Rousey and Hovhannisyan have known each other for several years. They belong to the same gym, Glendale Fighting Outfit, in Glendale, Calif., and are both coached by Edmond Tarverdyan. They spent a few weeks together recently preparing for their upcoming fights at a training camp in Big Bear, Calif.
“We have a great bunch of people at our gym,’’ Rousey said. “We all pull for each other. There is no hierarchy. Nobody’s jockeying for position. We’re just simply a team, and a family and we’re always there for the other one. Art usually trains with Edmond in the morning right before I do.’’
No, Rousey and Hovhannisyan have never seriously sparred. “I learn a lot just watching Art,’’ she said. “He’s such a big puncher; I just watch the way he sets down on his punches. Sometimes, he’ll try and work with me on my footwork. I don’t know what I’d do if we ever actually sparred probably try for a takedown or something.’’
The incredibly popular Rousey is impressed with Hovhannisyan inside the ring and out. “Art is very respectful and a pleasure to be around,’’ she said. “He’s just the biggest sweetheart. You’d never guess he was a cold-blooded killer during a fight.’’
Hovhannisyan will be ringside for Rousey’s fight on Saturday. “Of course, after my fight I plan to go and support her,’’ he said. “We all support each other. We’re a team. I think she’s seen me fight three times, and I’ve seen her fight three or four times. I met her at the gym the first time she went there. You could say we’ve had light sparring, but mostly we’re just working on technique.’’
The Armenian-born Hovhannisyan gets to witness a side to Rousey that many accustomed to her brash attitude and trash-talking ways don’t often see.
“As a person, she’s a good friend of mine,’’ he said. “She may learn from me in the ring, but the things I learn from her are humanly characteristics. I see her drive and total dedication. To watch how far she’s come from when she was just an average judo fighter to what she’s now become, an MMA superstar and UFC World Bantamweight Champion is an absolute inspiration. As an athlete, she’s the best of the best, I can tell you that.
“My fight on Friday will start a big weekend for the Glendale Fight Club. We’re going to go 2-0.’’
In the middle of this is the trainer, Tarverdyan, who along with George Bastrmajyan has been instrumental in the lives and careers of all the fighters at Glendale Fight Club. They’ll be at both fighters’ weigh-ins and fights, making the approximately 75-mile, one-way trip between Cabazon and Anaheim a couple times.
“We’ll be at Art’s weigh-in on Thursday in Cabazon, than go to Ronda’s weigh-in on Friday in Anaheim,’’ Tarverdyan said. “After the weigh-in, we’ll go back to Art’s fight in Cabazon, but then we’re going to Glendale for an engagement party before heading to Ronda’s fight on Saturday.’’
That’s a lot of drive time but Tarverdyan, whose passion for combat sports cannot be understated, has made this kind of trek to back-to-back events in the past.
“It’s exciting,’’ he said. “Actually, we were supposed to have two fighters on each card, but their fights fell out, or we’d be dealing with double duty on both nights. We’ll be in the car for something like two-and-a-half hours in Friday traffic, but we’ve been doing this for 12 years so we’ve done it before and we’ll do it again. There’s no pressure. I’m confident both Ronda and Art are the superior fighters and will win.’’
Tarverdyan, 31, is a fighter himself. He was 27-2 in Muay Thai and retired as the WBC International Champion. He’s 2-0 in MMA with his next fight scheduled for April 13 at Hollywood Park Casino in Inglewood, Calif.
“I’m fortunate to be doing what I truly love; it’s also all about trying to be a successful coach,’’ he said. “We’ve had our share of hard times and disappointment, but we’ve had success, too. I love working with the fighters, and trying to keep them motivated. Even just holding the mitts or talking with the fighters is exciting for me.’’
Coaching dedicated athletes like Rousey and Hovhannisyan makes it even more special, he says.
“Ronda is so fun to work with,’’ Tarverdyan said. “She’s cool with whatever you say. I’ve seen a lot of difference in her, the way she’s changed in her training the last couple years. When she first came here, she just mostly sparred. Now, she does everything in a most professional manner and we bring in top people to work with her. Of course, she gets mobbed wherever she goes. But her focus in the gym has always remained totally focused. I actually think her boxing at this point is better than Cris Cyborg’s.
“Art’s been with us since his third pro fight. We’re like brothers. If he has a problem outside the ring, he can call me or George. It’s been a hard road for Art because of injuries and fights falling out, but he’s really easy to work with and never complains. He’s basically very quiet outside the ring, but he hits like a truck and is a real crowd-pleaser inside. I think Art will stop Perez inside 10 rounds, probably in the fifth or sixth.’’