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Georgi Karakhanyan returns to Bellator with some experience in gold

WSOF

Georgi Karakhanyan last appeared in Bellator back in 2011, and the reason he returns nearly four years later, at least in his mind, is because of what happened that night in Concho, Oklahoma. That was the night Karakhanyan got TKO’d by Patricio Freire at Bellator 37 in the featherweight tournament quarterfinal. In his five years of competing in cage fights to that point, he’d never been stopped before.

Three years later, he says it’s all for the better. In his segment during "In Focus," the 29-year old Karakhanyan said, "[Pitbull] finished me, which is perfect…that’s why I am where I am today."

And where he is today is set to make his return to Bellator after winning nine of his last ten bouts. Karakhanyan (23-4-1) will face Bubba Jenkins at Bellator 132 on Friday, Jan. 16. This time, the older, wiser Russian -- who resides in the Inland Empire in California -- returns with experience in handling belts.

Karakhanyan won both the Tachi Palace and World Series of Fighting titles in his time away. It’s what makes him a renewed intrigue as he once again enters a realm where "Pitbull" Freire -- who is defending the 145-pound belt against Daniel Strauss in the main event the same night -- is the thing to overcome.

Not that Karakhanyan is staring down the block.

"Going into a new organization, I try not to think about belts or anything like that," Karakhanyan says. "I just try to focus on a point in a place in time. When you just focus on a single person, then a lot of good things come. But when you go into an organization thinking about belts and this and that, you don’t do well. I’m just focused on one fighter right now, and that’s Bubba Jenkins."

Jenkins was a D-1 collegiate wrestling champion at Arizona State, and now trains in the gamut of mixed techniques at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida. This will be his first fight as a featherweight. Though he sputtered a bit out of the gate early in his MMA career (that thud-like loss against LaRue Burley at Bellator 100), he has won four fights in a row to position himself into contention.

Still, most people think of the 26-year Jenkins as a wrestler-first, who is still very much in the process of putting it together.

"Yeah, I do see a lot in his game [that can be exploited], I’m pretty sure he sees a lot of things in my game, too, and that’s why he signed that contract," Karakhanyan says. "We’ll see how he can deal with my pressure, and how I can deal with his pressure, and it just matters who shows up on that day to fight.

"But I worry about everything. I feel like in four-ounce gloves anything can happen in this sport. I’ll be prepared for everything. I know he’s got a good wrestling background, but I go in there prepared 100 percent for everything."

Karakhanyan trains at Millennia MMA in Rancho Cucamonga, and gets higher altitude training at his home in Cedarpines Park, which sits 25 miles west of Big Bear. He’s one of the rare fighters who made a crossover from playing another sport professionally. In his case, it was soccer, the sport he grew up obsessing over in Moscow. He played for the now-defunct San Diego Shockers of the Major Indoor Soccer League.

His father was a sambo player and a practitioner of shotokan karate, which Karakhanyan himself dabbled in for much of his youth.

"I remember I got my brown belt in karate, but I never thought about being a fighter," he says. "As a kid growing up in Russia, all you think about is becoming a soccer player. You see a lot of soccer stars getting a lot of money. So I never thought I’d be a fighter."

It was during the early-aughts while watching Pride, where soccer kicks were perfectly legal, that the bells began to ring that he might try his hand at fighting.

A decade later, Karakhanyan (23-4-1) is among the featherweight elite. Should he get by Jenkins and make a case for a title shot, he can become one of the rare fighters to win belts in three different organizations.

"I feel like I’ve matured as a fighter," he says. "I took some of the losses to Bellator with me, and it made me who I am right now. I lost to Joe Warren, and I lost to Patricio Freire, two complete fighters. And I feel like I’m still not a complete fighter. I’m still getting better everyday.

"I think experience is a main factor here. Fighting in other organizations, fighting out of the country, fighting in Japan in front of 37,000 people, it made me adjust to all the bullsh*t. So right now I’m just going to go in there and fight my fight and it feels good."