Georgi Karakhanyan is in Las Vegas to defend his WSOF featherweight title against Rick Glenn Saturday night at WSOF 10, but at the moment, the Moscow-born fighter is focused on the Russia vs. South Korea World Cup game that he’s watching. There’s weight to cut but there’s also a game to win.
“I always follow the Russian team,” he says nervously as his squad goes through a tense moment in the game against South Korea.
“I want them to do good and they still might advance to the next round. But, I chose Germany and Argentina as favorites to win. Argentina hasn’t performed the way I thought but Germany is extremely strong, as has been Holland.”
Georgi’s interest in his national team and futbol overall, extends a bit further than even the average rabid soccer fan, though. Before he ever got into the fight game, Karakhanyan was a professional soccer player.
He aspired to greatness on the turf as a teenage player but circumstances outside of his control, as well as his own sense of right and wrong, served as roadblocks in the Russian’s brief professional soccer career. When Karakhanyan was seventeen, he played for a pro team in San Diego until the organization went out of business.
From there, Georgi made a team in Mexico but his elation at being picked up soon dissipated when they asked him to do some legally questionable things in order to play for them.
“I made the team but unfortunately, they wanted me to do some stuff I couldn’t do. They wanted me to sign under a different name than was on my passport,” he explains.
So, Georgi came back to the States, a bit disillusioned. His pro sports dreams seemed out of reach and all of the sudden he was just another teenager behind on his high school credits.
It was a lot for the immigrant to go through. Just seven years prior, he changed countries and hemispheres, moving from Moscow to Southern California. Then, his soccer dreams took him to yet another country and spit him back out before he could understand what was going on.
Georgi simply buckled down, got some construction gigs and threw himself into his work, to make ends meet. While working construction, Karakhanyan was introduced to the sport that he would eventually become a champion in.
“A friend of mine did Jiu Jitsu and told me I should try it,” he remembers.
“So, I did. I signed up for classes and then, six months later, without any stand-up training, they asked me if I wanted to take a fight because someone was out with an injury. I asked if it was an amateur fight or professional and they said it was a pro one. It was a King of the Cage event. Man, I fought but looked very sloppy (laughs). Just walking down to the cage I gassed out because I had so much adrenaline. I was lucky enough to win by guillotine, which was the only move I knew.”
Georgie liked the feeling of fighting MMA, so kept it up in between working twelve-hour shifts in construction. He says that he never considered a career in the sport as a possibility until his coaches told him ne needed to focus on it more.
“Yeah, I never thought of it but after my fifth fight, my coaches told me that I had potential and that I should focus on that. It sometimes got hard doing my shifts and then coming and training. They said I should commit to MMA and really give it a try, full-time,” he says.
The move paid off, as Karakhanyan’s record improved and he fought for bigger promotions. At present, the 145 pounder has not lost in over three years, culminating in a title win over Lance Palmer last December at WSOF 7.
Since winning the belt, Georgie’s life has changed a bit. He’s sponsored by Reebok and appears on national television.
The soccer player-turned fighter has already gone further than he ever thought possible but he insists that his mentality hasn’t changed. There’s too much left to accomplish to become complacent.
“My work ethic has probably changed in that now I train way harder,” he says.
I know all the guys I fight want to be where I’m at. I can’t train when I want to train, I can’t take off when my body is sore. It’s like you’re on top and all these hungry lions are trying to eat you and take your place. So, you’ve got to train hard. You’ve got to be on top of your game because when you stop training hard, that’s when they get you.”