LOS ANGELES — Georgi Karakhanyan was looking for an edge leading into Bellator 192 and the final fight of his contract. So he hopped into his car and drove about five hours north.
With the help of his manager Matt Aptaker and Bellator exec Mike Kogan, Karakhanyan set up a visit to Stockton, Calif., where he trained for about two weeks with Nate Diaz, Chris Avila and that well-known crew. The experience, Karakhanyan, was enlightening. It changed the way he’ll approach fighting and the business side of it.
“Just focus on my strengths and just tighten up everything,” Karakhanyan told MMA Fighting at Bellator 192 media day Wednesday. “Jiu-jitsu. Be a little more vocal. Outside the cage, in the cage. Just pretty much brand myself out. I feel like as fighters, I think that era of just being a good fighter is not enough to make it. You have to make noise. For example, look at Colby [Covington]. He’s just talking shit left and right. It’s not right, but that’s what the media wants and that’s what the fans want.”
Karakhanyan (28-7-1) will meet the very game Henry Corrales on the card Saturday night at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif. The Russia native, but longtime resident of Southern California, is coming off a second-round TKO win over Daniel Pineda at Bellator 182 back in August. In all, Karakhanyan, 32, has won three of his last four fights.
A victory over Corrales will put Karakhanyan in a good spot heading into free agency. Karakhanyan said he wouldn’t rule out any destination, including promotions like the UFC, Rizin, ONE Championship, Fight Nights Global, ACB and more. But he would like to remain in the United States and at his regular gym, Millennia MMA in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
“Everything is a possibility,” Karakhanyan said. “Everything is interesting. So whoever comes with the offer that’ll put food on the table for me and my kids, I’m gonna go with that.”
Karakhanyan said going to train with Diaz in Stockton was a time he won’t soon forget. There was a lot of training, but also plenty of socializing, going out to eat and having a good time. Karakhanyan said they brought good boxers in to spar with him.
“I guess every day felt like to me just like the day when I walk out for a fight,” Karakhanyan said. “That feeling of not knowing what’s gonna happen. I like those moments and I feel like that separates good fighters from great fighters.”
Embracing showing his personality outside the cage was a big part of what he learned from Diaz and company, Karakhanyan said.
“I want to fight for another five years and if it takes for me to call someone a mother f*cker and tell that bitch to fight me, I’m gonna do that,” he said.
All that talk about Diaz not wanting to fight anymore, Karakhanyan said, is not true. He said Diaz is being very calculating about a return. He knows what he’s doing.
“I think Nate is gonna come back,” Karakhanyan said. “He’s just looking for that big payday. He’s smart, man. Wait for his time. Hopefully they make that trilogy happen with Conor [McGregor].”
Odd betting line?
Shane Kruchten is a 12-year veteran of MMA. And he has no idea how he can be such a huge underdog to prospect Aaron Pico, who sports a 1-1 record in the sport.
Kruchten was a +525 underdog on the Bovada online sports book Thursday night. Pico is a -850 favorite. Of the two big MMA cards this weekend, that is by far the biggest disparity of any main card bout.
“I started cracking up, I started laughing,” Kruchten said, explaining how he felt after seeing the line. “I was like, ‘Alright, cool.’ I was like, you guys must think I’m coming either paraplegic or I’m coming in a wheelchair.
“I kind of chuckle. People that never fought in the cage or have any combat experience or aren’t around combat, they have no reason to make betting lines. It’s funny to me. It’s a humorous thing for me.”
When told of Kruchten’s comments, Pico said it must be his opponent’s ego talking. The blue-chip up-and-comer said he had no idea what the betting lines even looked like.
“If they have a big ego, that’s on them,” Pico said. “That’s their problem. If you show up to fight, if you feel you’re better than me, you get a chance to prove it Saturday. Come prove it. … I’ve worked many more hours than he has. He may have more time in the cage, but as far as the hours counted for training, he’s nowhere near me, nowhere near me — 100 percent nowhere near the level.”
Kruchten (12-3), a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, says Pico’s last win came against a “chump” in Justin Linn and he feels he is better than Zach Freeman, who beat Pico last year at Bellator NYC.
“In life, you’re always looking to be that spoiler,” Kruchten said. “You’re always looking to be that Cinderella Man that comes out of nowhere and ruins the show. I’ve been in this sport for 12 years, I’ve been around. I’ve been around, I’ve fought big names in five different weight classes. I’ve done it, I’ve been there. This is another stepping stone.”
Michael Chandler no longer interested in his old title
Don’t expect Michael Chandler to call out Bellator lightweight champion Brent Primus, the man who beat him for the belt last year, if he beats Goiti Yamauchi on Saturday. Chandler, 31, said his time caring about the belt is up.
“I’m not in this to crawl back like I need to get the title back,” he told MMA Fighting. “To me, having the belt is just having another ornament that’s just 12 pounds of gold and leather. I’ve got four of them sitting in my house that are just collecting dust right now. To me, I want the big fights. To me, I want to continue to solidify my name, not just in the lightweight division, but the welterweight division. Just MMA in general. It doesn’t really matter to me.”
Chandler (16-4) said he could venture up to 170 for some fascinating fights or drop down a bit and meet longtime rival and Bellator featherweight champion Patricio Freire somewhere in the low 150s.
“I don’t think in 2018 you have to have the belt to be considered the best,” Chandler said. “I’ve been in this division and I’ve been the staple and the benchmark that every other lightweight compares themselves to over the last eight years. So for me, it’s just about getting the big name fights.”
No personal goals for Haim Gozali
Gozali has some plans for 2018, but they don’t really revolve around himself.
“I want to make MMA big in Israel,” he told MMA Fighting.
Gozali (8-4), an Israeli MMA pioneer, fights Jose Campos on Saturday. He then hopes to get back to work bringing the sport — particularly Bellator — to greater acclaim in his home country. He said he has seen MMA grow exponentially since Bellator started holding shows there in 2016. And he wants more — 10 or 12 Israeli Bellator fighters in the near future and 12,000 in attendance next time Bellator hits Tel Aviv.
“I don’t have goals,” Gozali said. “I’m not gonna be the champion. I’m fighting because I like it. I don’t care if I have two more fights this year, it’s the same for me. The most important thing is to make Israel [bigger in MMA]. Israel is a nation of fighters. That’s what I’m gonna do this year.”