On Friday 22nd March 2019, Bellator return stateside for a show from the Winstar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma that pits two featherweights together in a headline rematch. Georgi Karakhanyan and Emmanuel Sanchez first squared off in January 2017 in a contest that saw Sanchez emerge victorious via a majority decision. After having two fights in Russia, Georgi ‘Insane’ Karakhanyan returns back to the US based promotion after being released in 2018.
“Of course I was disappointed when Bellator released me,” said Karakhanyan. “It was fair on their side as I didn’t perform the way I should have so they cut me. I went to ACB and fought all of those guys who were on steroids and proved to myself that I’m still one of the top featherweights. Releasing me was upsetting but they had to do what they had to do as an organisation and I as a fighter had to do what I had to do.”
This fight card was originally supposed to be headlined by a contest between Emmanuel Sanchez and promotional newcomer, Ashley Grimshaw, but those plans were scrapped after the Brit suffered an injury. However, before he was promoting to be the headliner, Karakhanyan (28-8-1 1NC) was already booked to compete on the show’s undercard in another interesting bout.
“Originally I was taking a fight against John Macapa on three weeks notice,” explained Karakhanyan. “I signed that contract and it was going to be on the prelims. I took that fight and then two days later they called me and told me that Ashley Grimshaw got injured or something happened. They wanted me to fill in for the main event against Sanchez which was a no brainer. I just told them to send me the contract ASAP and I signed the deal. So here I am in the main event against Sanchez for the second time!”
This marks Karakhanyan’s third stint in the promotion and he will be hoping that this is his most successful run yet. Although he was released by the promotion last year, he never stopped talking to senior figures behind the scenes and knew that when another opportunity was presented, he was going to grab it with both hands.
“It’s good to be back man. I feel like third time is a charm so I feel happy,” stated Karakhanyan. “I was in touch with Scott Coker for a long time even when they cut me. He kept telling me to keep training and they’ll reach out to me. I’ve signed a promotional agreement with them so I’m really happy to be with Bellator.”
Waiting to welcome him back to the promotion is Emmanuel Sanchez (17-4) who is a familar foe to Karakhanyan as they both faced off at Bellator 170 in January 2017. That fight began with Karakhanyan pushing the pace and looking for regular takedown attempts. Towards the end of the round, Sanchez managed to take Karakhanyan’s back but didn’t have enough time to sink in a rear naked choke. Chaos ensued in the second round as Sanchez was given a point deduction after landing two illegal knees before Karakhanyan dominated the majority of the final round after securing an early takedown. When it was all said and done, Karakhanyan didn’t agree with how the contest was scored.
“In our last fight, if you look at it, I feel like I lost the second round but I won the first and the third,” claimed Karakhanyan. “I don’t know what the f**k the judges were looking at but to me, I thought I won. However, you can never leave it to the judges because they can f*****g ruin your career. As far as what I did wrong, I didn’t fight my fight and he was fighting his fight but then again even on my worst day I still thought I beat him.”
Karakhanyan has made many changes to his training regime since that first fight so he is expecting the rematch to look very different to how the original contest went. He is now working out of a new gym and has a host of new, high level training partners who all elevate each other’s games. He believes these tweaks will make the difference and enable him to be the most complete fighter that he has ever been as opposed to Sanchez, who he doesn’t think has evolved.
“I feel like I’m way different to when we fought each other in 2017,” declared Karakhanyan. “I’ve changed a lot of things in my training and mainly in my conditioning. I’ve partnered up with The Treigning Lab and I’m training with world class conditioning coach, Sam Calavitta, and working with him is brutal. Also, I think training with guys like Cub Swanson, Saad Awad, Juan Archuleta, TJ Dillashaw and Aaron Pico has helped a lot. It is a different group of guys that beat me up every day.”
“I watched our fight (v Sanchez) one time but not too much because I’m not that fighter that I was in 2017. I study all of my opponents and I watch tape on him all the time. I feel like he hasn’t changed much. I watched his last fight with Patricio Pitbull and to me he hasn’t changed a lot,” explained Karakhayan.
Away from his return to Bellator, Karakhanyan has been embroiled in a lot of controversy with his former employers, ACB (currently known as ACA). He claimed a disqualification win in his final fight with the promotion after he was hit by his opponent, Timur Nagibin, after the round had ended. However, after the event, a group of promotional officials made the decision to overturn the result to a no contest and release Karakhanyan from the promotion due to his ‘unprecedented unsportsmanlike behavior prior to the fight and during the fight, for simulating and trying to cheat the referee, which led to conflicts and brawls in the cage and on the arena.’
This ‘unsportsmanlike behaviour’ pointed to claims that Karakhanyan was verbally insulting Nagibin’s mother during the fight which Georgi denied. Once he said that these accusations were false, the promotion released a response where they said that Karakhanyan was definitely lying about making derogatory comments about his opponent’s mother and that he did indeed say them. Karakhanyan responded to ACB/ACA’s latest rebuttal and gave advice to any other fighters who were considering signing with the promotion.
“That’s the funny thing. They keep on saying I was insulting his mother during the fight. That’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard and I will say it again and again. I never said anything about his mum,” stated Karakhanyan. “I don’t know what’s going on or why they think it is a big deal but I never cussed his mum off. When I had his back, I was laughing and just telling him that I’m going to stay on his back, I’m going to choke him out and he was laughing. He kept telling me I was tired. The funny thing is I keep asking them to release the video. They have a lot of video sounds where you can hear us talking but they don’t want to do that. I feel like they are the liars and I feel like as an organization they did a very stupid move and you know, the best of luck to them.”
“What would I tell another fighter that was considering to fight for ACB? Just make sure that you get paid. Make sure you know that if they want to change something, they’ll change it. They have their own judges. Even with Herb Dean, I feel that they put a lot of pressure on him and he took their side because obviously he’s going to go back there and referee for them so he did take their side. What they did to me was bulls**t. My hand was raised, the opponent hit me after the bell and yeah, whoever is going there, all I can tell them is good luck,” said Karakhanyan.
In an attempt to back up and corroborate ACB/ACA’s most recent statement, the referee of both of Georgi’s ACB fights, Herb Dean, said that Karakhanyan’s behaviour was unsportsmanlike and unnecessary during both of those contests. The featherweight responded to these claims with more straight-talking.
“Herb Dean doesn’t even understand Russian so I don’t know what the f**k he is saying. What behaviour? What this? What that? I was just promoting a fight so I did my part as a fighter and that whole stadium was full of Armenians and Russians supporting me. They should go and learn how that happened. If you go on YouTube that fight has 1 million views so f**k them.”
Bellator 218: Sanchez v Karakhanyan 2 can be seen live on Sky Sports Main Event at 2am early on Saturday morning.