UFCThe Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is a U.S.-based mixed martial arts organization, recognized as the largest MMA promotion in the world. The UFC is headquartered in Las Vegas, Nevada and is owned and operated by Zuffa, LLC. This promotion is responsible for solidifying the sport's postion in the history-books.
UFC is currently undergoing a remarkable surge in popularity, along with greater mainstream media coverage. UFC programming can now be seen on FOX, FX, and FUEL TV in the United States, as well as in 35 other countries worldwide.
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A pair of newer faces in the bantamweight class will adorn the main card of Friday night's UFC on FX show. Mike Easton, a training partner of divisional monarch Dominick Cruz, will collide with Jared Papazian, who's making his Octagon debut.
Jared "The Jackhammer" Papazian (14-6) is a representative of California's Hayastan Top Team, which was founded by the great Gokor Chivichyan -- a virtual phenom in the arts of Sambo and Judo. The squad is well known for churning out a stable of fiercely aggressive Armenians with a Judo base, the most notable of which are Karo Parisyan, who still stands as MMA's best Judoka, and his cousin Manny Gamburyan. As many are unfamiliar with Papazian, here's a passage from an interview on RattlingTheCage.com about his very Daniel Larusso-like initiation to the sport.
I was a sophomore playing football for El Camino Real high school. One day after practice I was taking a shower and I saw one of my teammates going through our lockers and stealing. I confronted him on the situation and he didn't like what I had to say. We got into a fight that day. About month later he was still upset about the fight, so he decided to get a bunch of his older brother's friends to jump me. I was at the AMC Promenade in Woodland Hills, California with my brother, waiting on some friends to arrive. Within 10 minutes I was approached by 12 guys that were much older than I was. They were about 17 to 19 years old. I was 15 years old at the time. I was fighting for my life.
They threw my brother into a storage room so he couldn't help me. We were fighting for about 5 minutes and there was about 30 people watching this happen. People from the crowd were helping them jump me. After the fight I felt really embarrassed and felt like I was a bitch that couldn't fight. It really messed me up mentally. I decided I really wanted to do something about this. I walked in to a Muay Thai gym by my house and started training. My goal was to fight every one of the guys that who jumped me one on one. But after I started training I started learning that I was in love with the sport.
The embryonic stage of Papazian's career was quite pedestrian. In his first twelve, he'd won half with one No Contest and five defeats. One of those losses was to future Hayastan compadre Karen Darabedyan and the last was to Felony Fights participant -- and genuine felon -- Shad Smith, who tapped him with a triangle. This sparked a noticeable turnaround for Papazian, who knocked out Smith in the rematch to ignite a nine-fight clip where he won eight and beat Abel Cullum to become the King of the Cage flyweight (135-pounds) champion.
Touted as a member of Alliance MMA, Mike "The Hulk" Easton (11-1) led us to believe he was going to emulate teammate Dominick Cruz's signature hoppity-skippity style of striking in the opening moments of his debut at UFC Live 6. It was inevitably a false alarm, as the constant shift in stance and awkward head-bobbing that parallels intoxicated night-club dancing gave way to a more traditional offensive approach.
After an understandably tentative first round showing, Easton overcame the Octagon jitters and pelted Byron Bloodworth with a set of knees and punches for a finish in the second. Despite coming off a two-year hiatus, the TKO was Easton's fourth strike-stoppage overall (2 subs, 5 decisions) and extended his streak, which is punctuated by wins over Chase Beebe and John Dodson, to six in a row.
Easton spent the majority of his time walking Bloodworth down and plugging in a stiff right counter.
Lloyd Irvin has been overseeing Easton's martial arts training since the age of seventeen and the end result is a very diverse set of skills that's applied intelligently. Easton is a capable wrestler, he was a bronze medalist at the 2008 BJJ Mundials as a brown belt and he's a decent kickboxer. Most of his offerings on the feet are delivered with his crisp hands but Easton will also throw in an occasional low kick or spinning back-kick.
Easton's predatory tactics finally paid off in the second when he cornered Bloodworth, tied him up in the clinch and unleashed a volley of knees to the melon. His finishing instincts were on-point and he pounced with some concluding strikes to cap off a successful UFC debut.
In addition to his variety of well-layered skills, Easton is a physical specimen with considerable strength and explosiveness. This entire package plus his methodical intensity will make Easton quite a handful for the pack
The highlight reel above is Papazian's career-defining victory over Cullum to win the King of the Cage strap, which he said was the one fight he wished all the fans could see.
Fitting the mold for many of the Hayastan fighters, Papazian is highly aggressive and hurls a ruthless series of wide-arcing punches with constant forward movement. Though kicking off his training with Muay Thai, he's more of a high-paced brawler than a kickboxing technician. Like Easton, he's a strong bantamweight with a sturdy clinch who comes from a reputable team, and will be looking to make a lasting impression in his first foray on the big stage.
I have to include a juicy snipped from the aforementioned interview with Papazian, which could be the source of some bad blood between the two. Papazian was asked, regardless of weight class, who he'd like to fight the most. Here's the applicable part of his answer:
Dominick Cruz has amazing cardio and awkward style, but I'm not a big fan of his because I believe he could do more to be the champion. I find his fighting style and personality boring. I believe that as a champion you need to be exciting and demonstrate to the fans why you are the champion.
I won't claim to have a firm grasp on the finite details of either fighter nor what their ceiling might be in the UFC. Papazian has reaped the benefits of tightening up his game, seems to be hitting his stride in the latter half of his career and, at only age twenty-three, has plenty of time to bloom. Easton, however, should take this one. Despite having fewer fights, his level of competition is superior and he's a bit more polished and mature.