As MMA fans, we've seen it time and time again -- young MMA prodigies who, for one reason or another, just don't seem to live up to their full potential. Young naturals like Dave Terrel, who a few years ago looked to be the next big thing in the Middleweight division. All the sudden he inexplicably started cancelling fights left and right, and then just seemingly dropped off the face of the earth. Or "The Phenom" Vitor Belfort, who at just 22 years old KO'ed his way to the Light Heavyweight title, only to be mentally dismantled by a combination of an embarrassing beatdown at the hands of Randy Couture and the very unfortunate murder of his sister. He began a steady decline up until recently. Even the "Prodigy" himself, BJ Penn, had a stint in his career where fans questioned his skill and future in the sport. He has since silenced the doubters.
Now, a new case arises in Karo "The Heat" Parisyan. A fighter who was once ranked #2 in the 170 pound division at age 22, he has been battling an addiction to pain killers for a few years now and has been on a downward spiral. In the hopes that Karo somehow stumbles upon this article, I would like to invite everyone to see what Karo once was, and what he could have been. As one of Karo's biggest fans, I hope he takes a page from Vitor and BJ's book and overcomes his issues and fights to his full potential.
Let's take a look at Karo Parisyan, one of MMA's fallen prodigies.
Born in Yerevan, Armenia, Karo Parisyan's destiny began to unfold when his family moved to America when he was 2. At just 6 years old, Karo was enrolled in Judo classes by his father. Karo cites the reason was because he "beat up on his sisters" and needed to find something to control his anger. He was fortunate enough to be training under the wings of world reknown martial arts instructor Gokor Chivichyan and American Olympic Judo legend, Gene LeBell by the age of 10. During this time, he began training in the Hayastan Grappling System. This was an MMA system developed by Gokor and Gene consisting of many different martial arts, and is what eventually led him to his future career in MMA.
16-17 years old
Flash forward about 6 years and a young teenage Karo has found a venue in southern California for him to display his skills, called Kage Kombat. Over the course of these 2 years, Karo starts his MMA resume in impressive fashion, winning all 6 of his fights by first round submission.
18 years old
After finding success as a minor, Karo suddenly finds himself up against an up-and-coming beast and future UFC Lightweight Champion, 26-year old Sean Sherk. For 18 straight minutes Sherk and Karo put on a brutal ground war that had both fighters having their moments. Despite winning the decision, Sherk was so badly beaten up that he couldn't continue on in the tournament to fight Chris Brennan, and instead went to the hospital without even picking up his paycheck. All this was going on while Karo "was there with two strippers in his lap drinking beer". Sherk got his revenge by beating him again 3 months later, where Karo's corner was forced to throw in the towel at the 16:20 mark. That's right, Karo fought Sean Sherk twice in 3 months for over 34 minutes, at the ripe age of 18! This kid looked to be a world champ in the making. Apparently, some of the more popular MMA organizations thought so too.
20 years old
A few years after his wars with Sherk, Karo was invited to fight at the King of the Cage 22 event. This was a nice step up in his career being that KOTC was a more popular venue than what he was used to. He was set to fight Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Champion and Mundials winner, Fernando Vasconelos. This would be Karo's 3rd fight in three months, after previously defeating Jason "Mayhem" Miller and Antonio McKee in other organizations. At first, Karo was nervous and doubted himself, but thanks to the support of his friends and training partners, he went on to use his Judo strength to out-grapple the BJJ champ enough to earn the decision. This is the fight that caught the eye of the UFC. Karo was now well on his way to the big show.
Karo got the call at around 8:00 am one morning from his trainer, Gokor, and received the news that he would be fighting in the UFC. Karo was elated. His opponent was soon revealed to be MMA veteran, Dave Strasser, a solid fighter with a wealth of experience. In an interview with mma-fighter.com, Karo recalls getting the news. "I was like, 'oh shit! I'm in the UFC!'", he says, "I was excited and like 2 months later, oh I'm fighting Strasser? I was like 'I don't care I'm fighting in the UFC!'".
In his first appearance in the Octagon at UFC 44, Karo sent a message to the UFC by dismantling Strasser in less than 4 minutes, using a basic Judo throw transitioned to a kimura to finish the fight. It was clear that Karo was able to handle pressure, as well as dish it out, living up to his nickname as "The Heat".
The UFC was impressed with Karo's flashy debut win. He was called back to be matched up against another young up-and-coming prodigy, future UFC Welterweight Champion and top 3 P4P fighter in the world, Georges St. Pierre, who was making his UFC debut. Karo admits he was out of shape before this fight, and needed fellow MMA fighter Josh Thompson to drag him out of the sauna after cutting weight. Despite being out of shape, he managed to last all 3 rounds with the future Champion, only to lose a hard fought decision. Karo later regrets not being in shape for the fight, but gave all credit to GSP being the better fighter that night.
He was now 1-1 in the UFC, and needed to make a statement in his next fight. And oh what a statement he made, after being sent down to the UFC's minor-league daughter company, the WEC, to face the Welterweight Champion and one of the most experienced fighters in MMA, Shonie Carter. Karo put on one of the most exciting and dominating performances in MMA history, throwing the champion around like a ragdoll and going full throttle for 3 full rounds, capturing the WEC Welterweight title. The UFC was once again feeling "the heat", and Karo was just warming up.
22 years old
Over the course of the next year, Karo would go on a 3-fight rampage, leaving a trail of fire behind him. First he was set to face yet another young up-and-comer named Nick Diaz at UFC 49. Diaz was a tough kid. Good boxing, good jiu-jitsu, and great at getting in his opponent's head. He was also coming off a shocking KO victory over highly touted striker Robbie Lawler. Karo had a challenge in front of him, but he prevailed, winning a split decision in one of the most exciting fights of the year. Karo displayed non-stop aggression, and together he and Diaz produced one of the most beautiful grappling battles the UFC has ever seen.
Just a few months later, "The Heat" was in store for another tough, veteran fighter, Chris "Lights Out" Lytle at UFC 51. Lytle was on a 5-fight win streak and had fought all over the world, never being finished in a fight. Karo didn't let this bother him, as he put on another impressive 3-round war, taking the fight by unanimous decision.
The young Judo prodigy was now one fight away from #1 contender status. The man standing in his way: Matt Serra. Serra was a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu stud who received his black belt from the great Renzo Gracie. He was a technical, smart fighter. They met in the Octagon at UFC 53. Mere seconds into the fight, Karo eats a stiff right from Serra and goes falling face-first to the canvas. He quickly regains his composure, and goes on to grind out a hard fought decision win. Karo later confesses that Serra was his hardest opponent to throw due to how short and stocky he is. But it didn't matter, because Karo was now at the top of his game. He had just beaten 3 of the UFC's top 10 welterweights in a year's time, and was now set to take on the most dominant 170-pound fighter in MMA history, the reigning 7-time Welterweight Champion, Matt Hughes.
This was Karo's calling in life, his destiny. He was a 22-year old prodigy who had it all. He was universally known as one of the most exciting fighters in MMA. He was the #1 contender in his weight class in the largest MMA company in the Western Hemisphere. He was the first fighter to ever successfully adapt specific Judo moves in MMA on a consistent basis. He had an ever-growing fanbase. All those years of hard work finally had paid off. He was staring destiny right in the face, and then it happened --- destiny spat a giant loogie right in Karo's mouth. During his training for his upcoming title fight, Karo sustained a serious career-threatening hamstring injury that forced him to cancel his fight with Hughes and take about a year off. Little did anyone know at the time, this injury would later be the key source of a series of events that has led to his recent demise.
23 years old
Karo is now facing the biggest test of his life. Unforunately for him, it wasn't against Matt Hughes. Karo's hamstring injury was a pivotal moment in his life. It caused him two major potential life-long issues. One being the injury itself. As a Judoka, Karo relies on his leg strength to perform his throws and reversals. Anyone who has seen what his hamstring looks like today realizes the severity of the injury. It looks as if he is missing that part of his leg. The negative effects this injury would have on his career were inevitable, and undeniable.
The other issue with his injury was of course the fact that having sustained such a serious injury, Karo was introduced to a host of prescription pain killers that he would need to take for several months. This was the beginning of the end for Karo. Unbenounced to him or anyone else, these prescription pills would eventually take over his life.
24 years old
After taking a year off to repair and recover from his hamstring injury, Karo is back in the Octagon at UFC 59. But once again, it wasn't against Matt Hughes. The UFC wanted to give Karo an easier fight for his return, assuming he probably had ring rust being out for so long. Nobody knew what to expect from Karo, but he captured everyone's attention again with a dominating first round TKO victory over his opponent, Nick Thompson. It seemed like Karo's game didn't skip a beat, but did it? Or was Nick Thompson just not a worthy opponent for Karo?
Karo was anxious for his next fight. Everyone assumed the UFC would be setting up Karo vs. Hughes next, but everyone was wrong. A new contender has emerged since Karo's injury, and is also hungry for the title. Ultimate Fighter Season 1 winner Diego Sanchez, who was 15-0 at the time and looked to be a threat to the title. Karo and Diego were pegged as the main event for the Ultimate Fight Night Live 6 event. This would be Karo's first main event and first real test since coming back from his injury.
Reminiscent of his fight with Matt Serra, Karo gets dropped in the opening seconds of the fight. It looked bad for Karo for a moment as it looked like he was having trouble seeing out of his right eye after getting stunned. He eventually fought out of his bad situation and went on to slam Diego around the cage for 2 rounds. "The Heat" was looking good, able to take Diego down at will and control the fight. But then, in the 3rd round, Karo seems to have hit the wall. He gasses out and takes a brutal one-sided beating for most of the last round, leaving the judges impressed with Diego's stamina and aggression, and fans left in shock and awe as everyone watched Karo run out of gas for the first time ever. Karo lost a unanimous decision that night in an action packed Fight of the Year candidate. To Karo's credit, he did win the first two rounds on paper, but in the end Diego showed he was more than capable of beating and finishing Karo by destroying him in the final round. Parisyan was starting his steady decline, and was having more and more personal issues surrounding his life. In the future, Karo will admit to this fight being the beginning of the end for his career.
After the loss to Diego, Karo needed to get back on track in the division and start racking up some more wins. He won his next 3 fights, however, they were against B-level opponents, and he just didn't seem to have the same "heat" he once had. The Karo we all knew and loved was withering away right in front of our eyes. Getting pudgier and more out of shape in every fight, many new fans started questioning the reason behind his nickname. He didn't seem too "hot" at all. Everyone could see something was different about Karo, but nobody knew for sure what was going on with him.
Between 2006 and 2007 Karo had beaten Drew Fickett, Josh Burkman, and Ryo Chonan, all by decisions. Karo was winning, sure, but his bandwagon of fans were jumping ship on him due to his lack of intensity and finishing power. He did put on quite a show for the Fickett fight, which saw a greusome blood bath with Fickett dripping in blood by the end of the fight. His bout with Burkman was exciting to watch indeed, though he still showed signs of being considerably more out of shape from the Karo we all once knew. Each fight he slipped further and further into the low point of his career. After winning a decision against Ryo Chonan in one of Karo's most boring and lackluster performances, fans were starting to worry about his future in the division.
So Karo was next set to fight the second biggest welterweight in the division in terms of natural size and walking weight, the well-rounded and ever-improving Thiago Alves next for a fight that would have launched either fighter to contender status. Alves was a UFC veteran much like Karo, however, Alves was looking like the next big thing at 170 lbs with his vicious Muay Thai and superb wrestling and grappling abilities. By this time, Karo had already gone public about his lingering hamstring injury, as well as his anxiety disorder that was starting to take a toll on his mental strength. The two met up at Ultimate Fight Night Live 13, where Karo would lose in the 2nd round, getting TKO'ed by a knee followed by a flurry of punches from Alves.
Since that loss, Karo finally started getting close to hitting rock bottom. He started cancelling fights time after time, citing his anxiety issues and lingering injury. In January of 2009, 8 months after losing to Alves, Karo finally gets a fight against a fellow Judoka, Dong Hyun Kim. Karo edged out a lackluster split decision, but tested positive for banned painkillers and his win was overturned. After his last-minute cancellation of his UFC 106 fight against Dustin Hazelett, it was clear Karo had a serious problem. It was even more clear after his camp went public about Karo's painkiller addiction. UFC President Dana White effectively kicked Karo out of the UFC, and the young prodigy's destiny is now in his own hands.
In his first interview since being booted from the UFC Karo seemed optimistic about his future and hopes to one day gain Dana White's respect back and make a return to the UFC. He cites his recent decline as a result of heavy stress from personal and financial issues at home, and a immense feeling of pressure due to his anxiety disorder. Karo dismisses allegations of his pain killer addiction having anything to do with it saying "every fighter uses them". Whatever the reason for this unfortunate plummet in his career, here's to hoping Karo eventually bounces back to his old self. He is one of MMA's greatest prodigies, as well as one of the most talented 170 pound fighters to walk the earth, like him or not. Thanks for reading.