Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak with Karo Parisyan, the former UFC title contender who fell on hard times after a positive test for pain medication. Karo is a brutally honest interview, maybe to his detriment but in the twenty minutes I spoke with him, he laid it all our there. It's a shame that even after putting on countless exciting fights, he'll best be remembered for his cameo appearance where he asked Nate Diaz if he knew who he was. This interview will be broken up into two parts. Enjoy part one.
Matthew Roth (Bloody Elbow) - I guess the first question is that you fought in September in Manaus, Brazil...what are you up to these days?
Karo Parisyan - What am I up to these days? My life is a roller coaster bud. I've been in some sort of training. I'm training but not like I'm supposed to train for a fight. I'm waiting for some opportunities to come to me. There's supposed to be some tournaments coming up soon in the coming year and I'm waiting for those tournaments to come through...MMA tournaments, 16 man tournaments. I'm waiting for news on that and I'm doing some training but I'm dealing with some personal stuff right now.
Matthew Roth (Bloody Elbow) - I don't really want to get into what you're going through in your personal life so let's change the subject a little bit. When you started your career you were with Gokor and Judo Gene. Do you consider yourself a Hayastan player or are you a judo player?
Karo Parisyan - Me and Gokor made peace and we're on good terms so I'm back in the school. I haven't been there in a couple of weeks but I'm back in the school. I'm gonna start training again there. You know, I don't know. Gokor would be the first one to tell you I had a very different style than anybody in that school. So I don't know about the Hayastan style. Yeah we had an aggressive crazy style that we do but specifically, how many guys have you seen judo throw like me from my school? Have you seen any body? I haven't seen any body with those kind of throws or those kinds of submissions. I consider myself under the Hayastan grappling system but no one really mimics my style and the way I fight.
Matthew Roth (Bloody Elbow) - Are there any key differences between judo and the Hayastan system?
Karo Parisyan - Well judo is with a gi. You have to understand that we're Armenians and Eastern Europeans. We're from the former Soviet Union and former Russia. European Judo is different than Asian Judo and Eastern European Judo. Different in that we all go for the same techniques but as far as styles go and grips? We have different training methods and it's a little bit different. Gokor brought that Armenian style to the United States. That's why when we used to show up to judo tournaments kids would be terrified of us. Kids our age thought we were animals. The things we did they never came close to doing. We really got beat up if we didn't do 50 push ups. We got hit. When we stepped onto the mat we trained. There was no bullcrap. It was all straight up judo and straight up training. We couldn't slack. If we lagged then we were gonna get our ass kicked so that gave us resolve. We were the best junior team in the country. Nobody even came close to us. We would meet kids from Japan and kick their ass too and they're supposed to be the best judo guys in the world.
Matthew Roth (Bloody Elbow) - It's Gokor's school so what was Gene LeBell's involvement in your development in judo?
Karo Parisyan - Gene LeBell was more of a mentor. He was a big mentor in my life as far as fighting and life. He's a great man. There's one Gene LeBell and there's only one you can claim. He's an amazing person. He's a great guy. And he had that style, that catch wrestling style. Kind of what I was doing. Throwing and submitting people even before they hit the mat. Gene had that style. He helped us out with those techniques but at the same time he was more of a mental coach too. Never say never. There was no die in the guy. So that's what really helped us out in our careers.
Matthew Roth (Bloody Elbow) - Are there any key moments where you can look back and reflect and say "I couldn't have done that without Gene"?
Karo Parisyan - I'll be honest with you. I can't say I couldn't have. Listen there was only one guy that went to the UFC from my school. And even as an Armenian or really as a judo guy that actually did something. I went out there and I did it. Obviously they helped me and there was a big help from both. But that being said, I can't say "oh, I couldn't have ever done it if it wasn't for them." If it wasn't for my training partners and for all these people I couldn't have ever done it but saying "if it wasn't for Gene, I couldn't have ever been in the UFC", I'd be lying if I say that's true. Of course they helped me. They're the ones behind me and I'll always claim them till the end of my career and my life. But you have to understand, the question you're giving me is no matter how good you are or how many people you know, you have to be good enough for the UFC or Dana or whoever these guys are that are looking at you. You have to be that good to get the shot. If my uncle is Sylvester Stalone, I'm not gonna get a shot in the UFC because if I'm not worthy enough then they're going to tell you sorry, we can't put you in. They put me in to be a stepping stone for Dave Strasser because there was hype around him when I was 20 years old. I went in there and I laughed and did what I had to do. That's where my career started. But to answer your question it's a yes and it's a no. I'll leave it at that.
Matthew Roth (Bloody Elbow) - You brought up the Strasser fight and that was my next question. Your history with the UFC, it started when you were training for the Athens Games. Reflecting back, would you have rather pursued the Olympics at that time and waited for MMA or do you think it was the right call?
Karo Parisyan - No, I had the Olympic trials and I had the UFC. My entire life I've answered this question 35,000 times in every interview. In judo I never made a dime. Not one penny but I always spent money on airfare, hotels, food, application and registration fees. All my life I always spent money to do a sport, an Olympic sport. When the time came, I was like "I'm doing good as far as a judo practitioner" and I could throw my opponents without a gi. I'm fighting and I'm beating all these people. So I'm gonna pick judo up and fight and put it in MMA. That's what I did. I didn't even care for the Olympics. So what if I won the Olympics. Let's just say I went and I was an Olympian at best. Let's just say I won a match which in judo is unbelievably hard. Nothing was going to change. Karo Parisyan the Olympian. Big friggin deal. But I picked up the talent that I had as far as a judo practitioner and I brought it to mixed martial arts and that's what helped me. I was able to put judo on the map and make a career out of and become someone.
Matthew Roth (Bloody Elbow) - Ok. One of the people at Gokor and Gene's school, Ronda Rousey. She did go to the Olympic route and now she's trying to transition and make her name in MMA. What does she have to look forward to and what are going to be her biggest issues with really establishing herself?
Karo Parisyan - Listen, Ronda grew up in front of us. When Ronda was a kid we used to yell at her and tell her to suck her lip back in and start doing the techniques. She trained with animals like us and that's why she went and became a world champion in judo. Ronda is like my little sister man. I've known her for over 15 years. She's doing great and she's an animal. I put my money on her. When she fights Cyborg, I put my money on Ronda. Ronda would kill Cyborg. Ronda would tear a limb off. People have no idea how strong Ronda is and she doesn't quit. She should expect, it's unbelievable I could say so much stuff that she should expect, but this is the nastiest business in the world this mixed martial arts. There's a lot of politics involved. It's a soap opera. It's who said what. At the end of the day it's about the fight. If you can win and prove to the fans and yourself, you're gonna make something of yourself and going to become who you want to become. She should expect losses. A cut. A broken hand. She should expect the physical department and the emotional department. I've been through all that stuff for 15 years and I told her that too. I trained with her a couple months ago. That being said I think Ronda's gonna be great at mixed martial arts. She's amazing.
Check back for Part 2 where Karo talks about his UFC career and Chris Leben.