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Karo Parisyan Opens Up on Career Struggles, Painkillers, and Why He's Still Here

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Karo Parisyan has a fight coming up at the end of March. This time, he told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s episode of The MMA Hour, he’s really trained hard for it. And yes, he realizes MMA fans have heard that from him before, even when it clearly wasn’t true. And no, he wouldn’t particularly blame them if they didn’t believe him now.

"I’ve been saying a lot of things in the past two or three years -- ‘Oh, I’m doing this, doing that, I’m training, I should do better than this’ -- and if people didn’t believe me and didn’t want to see me fight, I completely understand," Parisyan told Helwani. "But at the time being, I put a lot of crap aside and I’m trying to stay focused and get out there and do what I have to do. Just like I used to."

Of course, for Parisyan the phrase ‘just like I used to’ is a fraught one. It could refer to back when he was the UFC’s judo whiz kid, dumping one welterweight contender after another onto his head. Or it could refer to later, when he was plagued by panic attacks and a positive test for prescription painkillers.

(Editor's note: The Parisyan interview begins at 45:02 mark.)

Parisyan’s career has been up and down and sideways and backwards that way, but through it all he’s maintained that he still has more left in him. If only he could put it together and get serious in training first. As for why he said those things that he knew weren’t true -- the things about training, about what he had and hadn’t done to get ready for a fight -- he’s not entirely sure.

"Maybe I was lying to myself," he said. "Maybe I still had that in my head, that you should say this or you should say that. Listen, I don’t want to say that I was lying. That’s what I felt at the time and what I said."

And he did train. He trained a little bit, anyway. He showed up in the gym the way he was supposed to, even if, once he got there, he would "just bullcrap, not do anything really. Just try to kill the time and leave."

It turned out that that wasn’t enough to hang around in the UFC. It wasn’t enough to win either of the two fights he had after his most recent release from the UFC, either. After dropping a fight to Ryan Ford after a doctor stoppage last May, he went on to lose a decision against Jordan Smith the following September. Somewhere in there, he had to be honest with himself about why he was even doing this, Parisyan said.

"I trained for those fights. Not to my potential. I never trained to my potential, and people know that, but I still trained good enough to beat that guy [Ford] and I was. But after that, not really. I was just trying to get a paycheck, basically. That’s what I was doing. Eventually, you have that bonfire in you that burns out, and then you’re just tired of it."

Which begs the question, why is Parisyan still here? Why is he planning to put on the gloves again and face journeyman fighter Thomas Denny at a Worldwide MMA event in Texas on March 31? If the fire went out after, in Parisyan’s words "fighting pro MMA since I was 14 years old," why hang around? Why not just retire and call it a career?

"It crossed my mind, but I was like, what am I going to do?" Parisyan said. "Seriously. What the hell am I going to do? I changed six jobs in one year, and beat up three of my bosses. So what the hell am I going to go do?"

Besides, he added, he’s not quite 30 years old. And who retires at 30? Who retires when fans still regard him as a talented, though troubled athlete who fell apart at the end? Who wants to be remembered that way?

If he was 35 and at the end of his rope, maybe. But not at 29. Not now, Parisyan said.

"I still have much more to prove, much more to give. It’s like, I got to the top. I was the number one contender. I did a lot of stuff in the sport, but nothing where I could say, yeah, I could retire today. ... One my reasons -- and you’re going to say this is a stupid reason, Karo, but to me it’s a big reason -- but one of the reasons I want to come back is to shut people up. To shut a lot of fricking people up."

And the pain meds? He’s not on those anymore, not that he ever thought he had a genuine problem with them. What he had was searing pain in the back of his thigh, where a chunk of muscle is missing, he said. What he had was the constant sensation of being stabbed in the leg. He didn’t have a problem with pain pills.

"For the record, I was never addicted to pain meds. I abused pain medications without knowing. When it hurt me, it was too late already. I had done too much damage to myself, mentally and physically."

Before the fight with Dong Hyun Kim, he popped a few the morning of the fight, he said. And before his fight with Thiago Alves, he pushed through the crippling panic and anxiety that would later force him to pull out of his UFC 106 fight with Dustin Hazelett.

"Anxiety will be there. Anxiety you can control. The physical panic attack is the one that hits and brings you to your knees. And whoever’s had a panic attack, I want them to, for a second, realize that when they were having a panic attack, the worst one, when they thought they were going to die, I had to walk out in front of 20,000 people and fight. When my friends were pushing me, [saying] ‘Get out there, Karo. Thiago Alves is waiting in the cage. You’ve got to go fight.’ I did that."

And if you’re wondering what makes things any different now, or if there’s any reason to believe that after this fight he won’t have more excuses and explanations, more promises that turned out to be lies, you’re probably not alone. Maybe some part of Parisyan is wondering the same thing.

He’s gotten his second and third and fourth chances in this business, and he hasn’t exactly made the most of them. But he might not be beyond redemption just yet. He might have some good fights left in him. He just has to hope it’s not already too late for it to make a difference.

"I’m really trying. I really am trying. I’m not saying that I’ll be succeeding and I’ll be a world champion next year or two months from now, but I’m going to be honest. I swear to God, whether it gets me somewhere or it doesn’t, I really am trying."

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