Every time Melsik Baghdasaryan goes to earn a paycheck, someone is trying to knock him out.
Or his opponent might be looking to apply a submission hold that is either so painful or puts him on the edge of consciousness that he concedes the fight.
For Baghdasaryan, it’s just another day at the Octagon. But if you want to strike fear in the UFC featherweight’s heart, book him on a flight.
“I’m really scared traveling, like flying. I mean really, really scared,” Baghdasaryan said in a recent interview. “I’m not even going like flying to Vegas.”
Which makes his featherweight fight this weekend even more startling, as “The Gun” from Glendale fights for the first time in 15 months when he takes on Joshua Culibao on the UFC 284 preliminary card in, of all places, Perth Australia.
“I don’t know how I did this,” Baghdasaryan said with a laugh of the 21-hour flight to Down Under. “But yeah, even now I think about going back, thinking like, ‘Man, how I should go back?’”
Baghdasaryan, 31, has seemingly endured worse of late. He was forced to withdraw from a fight in April because of an MCL sprain suffered while training jiu-jitsu. Six months later, he was sidelined for another bout after breaking his hand, which came as a surprise to everyone.
“I swear, I didn’t feel like even any pain. All the coaches did not see anything in our sparring time, even my opponent didn’t feel anything,” said the native of Yerevan, Armenia. “I just finished the sparring and then take off the gloves, I’m like, ‘Oh my god. My hand is hurt.’ I went to Cedars-Sinai and they said it’s a broken metacarpal bone. The middle finger bone.”
Consecutive injuries were challenging for an athlete who has been competing in some form of martial arts or combat sports since he was 6. Baghdasaryan has done karate, kickboxing, muay thai, boxing and finally settled in with MMA.
Edmond Tarverdyan, who trains Baghdasaryan (7-1) at Glendale Fighting Club, said the difficulty was getting his fighter to settle down.
With an injured knee, Baghdasaryan worked on his upper body. With a cast on his hand, he drilled on the mat and focused on cardio. Most of all, he just wanted to fight.
“I’ve never seen him overweight or worry about anything with his diet, so he’s like what a real athlete should be,” Tarverdyan said. “I think it’s harder for people like him that get a little bit injured because they don’t understand rest. They don’t know what rest means, they’re always in tip-top shape, so it was hard for him.”
So badly did Baghdasaryan want to fight that he agreed to a fight more than 9,000 miles away. Not to mention Tarverdyan felt bad after having to shelve his injured fighter twice just weeks before his fights last year.
At the very least, Culibao (10-1-1) is a fellow 145-pound striker, so Baghdasaryan – in his third UFC fight after a 2-0 start – can prepare for a stand-up fight that is more to his liking.
As well as his coach’s: “You come back to a fight that is more of a striker in front of you, you’re gonna get that ring rust off of you and all that stuff, make adjustments as you go, a bit easier because you’re still up against a striker. And so, yeah, I think it’s great.”
Baghdasaryan admits to not knowing much about Culibao, the 28-year-old Sydney native who will be fighting in front of his countrymen for the first time in his five-fight UFC career.
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He leaves that up to Tarverdyan, who is confident his ever-improving pupil will be fine no matter where the fight goes.
“He’s been doing things that we’ve never seen him do, which is take people down and control them. So that’s a great thing,” Tarverdyan said. “You know, I’m not saying that we’re going to wrestle on Sunday. But you know if he needs to, I think he’ll make adjustments and he can.”
Main event: Lightweight champion Islam Makhachev defends vs. featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski
Co-main event: Yair Rodriguez vs. Josh Emmett for the interim featherweight title
Where: RAC Arena, Perth, Australia
How to watch: Early prelims (3 p.m. PT, ESPN+); prelims (5 p.m. PT, ESPN/ESPN+); main card (7 p.m. PT, PPV via ESPN+)