WOODLAND HILLS — A return to the cage and a renaissance of his career has been a longtime coming for Karen Darabedyan.
The return happened Friday night and the renaissance might well have begun.
Darabedyan returned to mixed martial arts competition for the first time in more than two years and looked dominant in submitting L. John Borges at 1:09 of the first round at the National Fight Alliance Valley Invasion 4 at the Warner Center Marriott.
"Honestly, it had nothing to do with an opponent, it was just getting back in there," said Darabedyan, a Glendale High graduate who trains at Team Hayastan in Hollywood and Main Event Gym in Glendale. "My nerves, on a scale of one through 10 were probably a 10."
But Darabedyan looked composed and was plenty effective in improving to 10-5, winning for the first time since 2009 and breaking a four-fight losing streak at the expense of Borges (1-6).
"It was me versus me," said Darabedyan of the losing streak and subsequent fighting inactivity. "I know I could probably beat just about anybody if I'm level-headed."
Darabedyan, cornered by Team Hayastan's Gokor Chivitchian, Glendale's Sevak Magakian and Karo Parisyan, established a right leg kick early. The third he landed buckled Borges.
Following another successful right leg kick, Darabedyan closed the distance with punches and Borges dropped levels for a takedown, but Darabedyan spoiled it with a front-face lock and guillotine attempt. Borges worked for the takedown and just as it looked as though he had it, Darabedyan regained control and deftly applied a guillotine, quickly dropped back and sank it in for the quick tapout.
"I felt I had an edge in the standing, but when the opportunity came, he shot in," Darabedyan said. "The guillotine is one of my main moves.
"Once I sank it in, I said I got it."
And he did, much to the delight of the crowd, which erupted for Darabedyan's entrance and was even louder in the aftermath of his victory.
"It was insane," Darabedyan said. "All of my family and friends being here to support me — I had to win."
Now, Darabedyan believes he needs to get right back in there to rekindle a once-promising career that had many MMA fans believing he could be the next big thing in the lightweight division.
"It's gonna get harder [with the] opponents [I face]," Darabedyan said. "But it's gonna get easier for me.
"It was a huge step for me getting back in."
In the main event, former Ultimate Fighting Championship competitor Jared “The Jackhammer” Papazian notched a hard-fought unanimous decision over Ara Muradyan, 30-27 twice and 29-28. The Glendale News-Press scored it 29-28 for Papazian.
Papazian, who previously trained at Burbank Gracie Barra and, at times, the Glendale Fighting Club, improved to 18-11, while ending a five-fight winning streak for Muradyan (5-2), who trains at Hayastan.
“This is probably the most comfortable I’ve ever been with my jiu jitsu,” said Papazian, who used superior and varied striking, footwork, improved takedown defense and ring generalship to key his win. “I’m improving every day.
“I had to switch things up to keep improving.”
Muradyan was the more active fighter in the opening round and landed well, though Papazian, whose chin has always been sturdy, didn’t seem fazed and landed his share of good shots, including a left hook that was likely the strongest of the round. Muradyan, who showcased vastly improved striking, also landed a takedown and had a solid guillotine attempt.
In the second round, Papazian looked more like himself, dancing and picking his shots, countering with combinations and turning in the most impressive round of the fight.
Papazian did more of the same in the third until Muradyan fought hard for a takedown and got it with a trip before working for a guillotine from the top. Papazian eventually worked free and went for an armbar that Muradyan defended, but Papazian was able to take top control.
Opening the card in amateur flyweight action, Sean Collins (1-2) knocked out Jill Quijano (0-1) in the first round. In the first pro bout, Luc Bondole (3-0-1) used takedowns and top game for a unanimous decision over Casey Greene (0-1) in a middleweight tilt. In a 120-pound women’s bout, Maria Rios (1-0) rallied for a rear-naked choke submission over Kate McGray (0-1). Rich LeRoy (1-0) won his lightweight debut with a vicious first-round knockout over Adrian Battee (0-1), before another devastating knockout was delivered by Benji Gomez (3-1) with a second-round overhand left against James Acosta (0-3) in a flyweight scrap. In welterweight action, Eddie Jackson (4-1) overwhelmed Justin Vasquez (1-5) en route to a first-round technical knockout.
Following Darabedyan’s win, Nick Barnes (7-0) edged Mike Jasper (7-2) via unanimous decision in a welterweight bout. Former WEC fighter Chad George then improved to 15-8 with a rear-naked choke submission in the opening round against Sam Rodriguez (2-4).
Follow Grant Gordon on Twitter: @TCNGrantGordon.