Losing is never the plan. And when you’ve been a world kickboxing champion with so much confidence in your striking, transitioning to MMA sounds like a recipe for success.
Until it all falls apart in your debut: Takedown. Armbar. Done. One minute and 26 seconds later, your hopes and dreams are shattered.
“I was crying for a couple of days,” Melsik Baghdasaryan said of his disastrous 2014 loss to Jay Bogan.
That began a circuitous route for Baghdasaryan, who put the sport in his rear-view mirror and continued to box and kickbox before deciding a couple years ago to give MMA another shot.
Four fast finishes later, Baghdasaryan finds himself on the doorstep of a potential UFC contract as he takes on Dennis Buzukja in the headliner Tuesday on Dana White’s Contender Series (5 p.m., ESPN+) in Las Vegas.
“That means everything for me. This is a place where you can show everything and then become a superstar after or become a champion or something like that,” said the 28-year-old Baghdasaryan (4-1), who came to the United States from Yerevan, Armenia, in 2013 to further his career and has had more than 100 international professional and amateur fights.
“This is a place where you can change your whole life. You can change everything, you know? You can change something about your family, even like in Armenia, your country, you can change everything.”
It hasn’t been for lack of trying. Glendale Fighting Club owner Edmond Tarverdyan calls Baghdasaryan the hardest-working fighter he’s ever had in his gym, ranking his 145-pounder just ahead of UFC legend Ronda Rousey and Top 10-ranked UFC middleweight Edmen Shahbazyan.
Tarverdyan says it’s not unusual for the affable Baghdasaryan to complete a strenuous workout and put in a session with strength and conditioning coach Jesse Forbes or climb the rope 10 times or do 200 pull-ups.
“I see that he wants to be the last one to leave the gym,” Tarverdyan said.
As the kids say, it’s been a minute since the southpaw has been in the cage. The Glendale featherweight hasn’t fought in nearly a year because of the pandemic.
Before that, Baghdasaryan racked up four wins in 2019. None of those had even been a minute.
Fighting twice each in regional promotions Gladiator Challenge and Lights Out Xtreme Fighting, no bout lasted longer than 32 seconds. His last two were wins by 9-second and 7-second knockouts.
“His speed and his power is unbelievable. He’s a world-class striker,” Tarverdyan said. “I believe right now when he walks in that cage on Tuesday, he’s one of the biggest punchers in the 145 division. Hopefully, he’s going to win and get signed.”
Tuesday brings a step up in competition. Buzukja, 22, fights out of highly regarded Longo-Weidman MMA in Long Island, New York.
Both are regarded as explosive strikers, but with Buzukja training with world-class grapplers like former UFC champions Chris Weidman and Matt Serra, it wouldn’t be surprising if he tried to take Baghdasaryan down.
Just don’t underestimate what Baghdasaryan (4-1) has been doing for the past couple years while recommitting to the sport, toiling daily on the mats with former UFC veteran Manny Gamburyan and GFC wrestling coach Martin Berberyan.
“You do get submitted in this game and you do learn,” Tarverdyan said. “I think after that first loss he was so devastated and he said that he’s going to come back and do this better. And from that day on, he’s been downplaying, not letting everybody know that he’s been wrestling his ass off.”
Baghdasaryan (4-1) says he doesn’t see his drive as exceptional. But if you want to sour his mood, give him an easy workout.
“If someone eats food, that’s normal for them, right? That’s like training for me,” he said. “I’m not doing anything special, I’m just working hard.”
His opponent is also 4-1 with a pair of first-round knockouts. Buzukja told MMA Junkie he expects a first-round finish, which sounds right to Baghdasaryan, whose four wins are a combined 24 seconds shorter than his lone loss in 2014.
“It’s going to be something quick,” Baghdasaryan said. “I don’t like to talk before the fight, but yeah, it’s going to be something very quick.”