(Parisyan says although his demons are behind him, they’ll always be chasing him. PicProps: Sherdog)
Karo Parisyan is ready to turn the page.
With the last chapter of his life and his career behind him, the 28-year-old who overcame a highly publicized battle with painkiller abuse and anxiety is hoping that the headlines about his personal and professional struggles the past three years will eventually become footnotes in his life story rather than the main subject.
“When I put my life story out about all of the sh*t I’ve been through and everything that’s happened to me, even my parents will be like, ‘Oh my God,’ when they read it. They don’t even know the half of it.”
Page one of the new chapter of Parisyan’s story starts Thursday night in London, Ontario when he squares off with highly regarded Canadian welterweight Ryan Ford at MMA Live 1 and he says the main difference this time around is that he’s writing the story for himself and not for others like he’s been doing his whole life.
“I’ve been through hell and I’m still on the way back home. I hope people can understand and not judge me for the mistakes I made. I’m doing this for myself. I’m tired of worrying about this person or that person. My family always has my back, but I need to look after myself. I want to get out there and do this for me so I can feel good about myself again. I used to think a lot about what everybody thought about me and now I don’t care. I’ve been training since I was eight years old and competing as long as I can remember and I got burnt out,” Parisyan recalls. “I let the pressure get to me. I had the pressure of representing my friends, my family, Armenians, judo etc…etc. What I realize now is that except your age, what goes up must come down, so you need to not let every little thing get to you because that’s when the pressure will eat at you until you break.”
Parisyan now believes that it was that pressure, coupled with the drugs that amplified and maybe even caused the anxiety, which he now says is under control.
As the sole financial support for several of his family members, if he didn’t perform and get paid, it didn’t just affect him, it affected everyone he cared about. When he was suspended and fined $32,000 for testing positive for painkillers following his UFC 94 win over Dong Hyun Kim, the financial hit he took only added to the pressure.
“I only made $6000 for my last fight after I paid the commission for my outstanding fine. That’s not enough money to support myself, let alone my family. It baffled me how I got a $32,000 fine and nine-month suspension when some of these guys popped for using steroids got six months and $12,000, but I did my time and I paid for my crime. Let’s move on,” he says. “I didn’t make the conscious decision to get anxiety or to become reliant on painkillers. It happened and I got through it and I’m working to get back to where I used to be and that’s all I can do.”
The toughest lesson Parisyan says he learned from this personal struggle was that many of the people close to him, whom he believed would be part of his support system through thick and through thin, when push came to shove weren’t who he thought they were.
“I screwed up and I have nobody to blame but myself. Sure I could blame a lot of people for what happened, but I’m not going to because I learned a lot through all of this. Nobody gave me a hand when I needed it the most. If you can’t help me up, fine, but don’t kick me down more than I already am. There are people who helped me out and they know who they are and I love them to death, but most of the people who I called my friends and family who were all around me when I was doing well, as soon as I fell, they were nowhere to be found,” Parisyan points out. “Nobody gave a sh*t, nobody wanted to give a sh*t, nobody called, nobody visited, and nobody said anything. For the record, f*ck all of them. They know who they are, from friends to cousins to certain family members, f*ck them – all of them.”
Although it was tough to come to grips with, Parisyan says that looking back on the situation, that moment of clarity when he realized that the people he surrounded himself with weren’t in it for the long haul with him was the main impetus for him getting started on the road to recovery.
“People need people. They need their friends, blood and family members to support them when they’re going through problems in their lives. When I walk into the cage, nobody walks in there with me. I’m on my own. No one is helping me out in there. A lot of people help me get ready outside the cage and I appreciate it and I love them for it and I’ll repay them any way I can,” Karo says. “But when I’m locked in the cage it’s only me in there and I’m putting my whole life on the line, so I have to worry about pleasing myself and not everybody else. It’s the same thing with life. I’m fighting for me now. That’s how it should have always been, but it wasn’t.”
For the record, Parisyan wants to be clear that when he started taking the painkillers which were prescribed by his doctor for a serious hamstring tear he suffered nearly four years ago, he could barely get out of bed without them, let alone train. A dent on the back of his thigh is a reminder of the severity of the injury that eventually healed up enough to allow him to stop taking the medication. When a freak training accident forced him out of his UFC 88 bout on the eve of the fight with Yoshiyuki Yoshida and he was put back on the pills, so began his humiliating slide down the slippery slope into addiction, anxiety and exile from the UFC. He says that he didn’t take pills recreationally, but explains that he became reliant on them to numb the pain enough to allow him to train and and that the side effect of such longterm use became a dependancy.
Ready to make penance for his past transgressions, Karo says he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get back to the UFC and that he doesn’t expect any favors considering how things played out with his last few fights in the Octagon.
“It’s been such a long road and people don’t realize and will never know just how big some of the bumps were. You have to crawl before you walk and walk before you run. I was running and now I’m back to crawling. I’m in a very, very deep hole and I’m crawling out slowly but surely. I’m doing what I need to do. It’s going to be a long road. Even if, God forbid, I walk out of the cage or ring with a loss, I want people to say, ‘Karo is back, he’s looking good, we can expect more from him and he’s far from done.’ At the very least, that’s what I want people to say about me,” he says. “I used to pray to God asking him to give me a chance. God gave me a chance and I screwed them up. Now I pray to God and ask him to forgive me for my sins and I tell him I’ll do the rest. The UFC gave me a few chances and I screwed it up. It is what it is. I talked to Joe Silva and I told him that I know last time I kept on asking him to give me a chance because I needed to come back without having fought outside the UFC at all. This time I told him I don’t want them to do me any favors. I’ll fight my way back to the UFC because that’s where I belong. I’ll fight my way back. I don’t need a handout from anybody. I’ll prove myself and I’ll beat whoever it takes to make it back there. I’ve made a pact with myself to keep fighting – and believe me, I thought about packing it in. I’m going to keep my mouth shut, train hard and give the fans what they deserve and what they expect from me.”
If his notable differences in demeanor and attitude when speaking of his upcoming fight and opponent are any indication that “The Heat” is following through with the pact he says he made with himself, it’s a good sign that he’s on the right path.
“I want to thank Ryan Ford for taking the fight because he was the only guy they offered it to who would take the fight. I have a lot of respect for him already because he isn’t afraid to get in there with a guy with a lot more experience. I don’t know how this fight will go. I’ll never make a prediction again because anything can happen and it’s bitten me in the ass every time I talk big,” he explains humbly. “I will tell you that I pray and I train every day and I hope the outcome is good. I will bring the fight to Ryan Ford and try to win this fight any and every way I can. That’s what I’m going to do. I will never go out to a fight and have people say I look ill or look stupid ever again. I want to do this for me. I’m in a much better place than I’ve been for a long, long time. I’ve been at the top of the ladder and I’ve been at the bottom of the ladder. Whatever I have to do to get back up to the next rung and then the next rung, I’ll do.”
Cognizant that as he gets a grip and a foothold on the subsequent rungs on the ladder out of the hole he dug for himself, he will be met with more and more resistance from his opponents, fans and the media, Parisyan says he’s up for the challenge and says that this time around things will be decidedly different than the last.
“Of course everyone is going to say they’ve heard me say the same thing before about how I’m better and I’m back to my old self, but this time I’m going to let my performance prove it, not my words. I had no business coming back to the UFC when I did because I wasn’t ready. I needed the money and I fooled everyone, including myself, into believing I was through my problems. If I was set financially, I would have stepped away from fighting for six months or a year and gotten better physically and mentally before taking another fight, but I couldn’t afford the time off,” he admits. “I forced myself to take the last six months off, even though I’m in such a huge amount of debt, because I needed to do it for me. I was offered dozens of fights, but I turned them all down until I knew I was ready. People are going to have their minds made up about me and think they know what’s going on in my head or in my life, when they have no idea. That’s the way reporters and even fans work sometimes. They get something in their heads and you have to work the rest of your life to prove them wrong. There’s only so much you can do. People believe what they want to about you, so I’m going to worry about what I can control and that’s me and my performance in the cage.”
He points out that this isn’t the first time people claiming to know who is and what he’s about were wrong about him.
“It’s nothing new. Everyone made such a big deal about my appearance on The Ultimate Fighter when I asked Nate Diaz, ‘Do you know who I am?’ I didn’t mean that I was some big shot fighter like everybody assumes that I meant. Everybody in that room knew I was a fighter and Nate knew me because I fought his brother, Nick. I meant that he doesn’t know me outside of fighting – outside of MMA. He didn’t know my background. I meant, ‘Don’t get all gangster on me because it isn’t going to work.’ That might intimidate some people, but there isn’t anything anyone can say or do that will rattle me,” he explains. “I come from Armenia, Russia, Eastern Europe, and over there guys don’t argue with their fists, it’s with knives and guns and bullets. There are armies and wars. It’s very bad. I’m not some guy from his neighborhood who he can intimidate by getting in my face and trying to bully me. I’ve seen people burned alive inside of tires – and I was just a kid when I saw that kind of stuff. People picked up on that one sentence and they assumed that I was acting all high and mighty, but that’s not how I meant it. I meant that I wasn’t buying his tough guy bullsh*t.”
Although he isn’t making many guarantees these days, one promise Parisyan makes is that he’ll never come into a bout unprepared like he did in his last fight with Dennis Hallman.
“I fought those demons and I’ve beaten them to a certain point and I’ll always have to fight them to some degree. I’m training. I feel a hundred times better. I look better. I wouldn’t have taken this fight if I didn’t think I was prepared for it. I did that in my last fight and look where it got me. I will never do that again. That was not me in the cage. Dennis Hallman called me after that fight to tell me he would give me a rematch whenever we were both healthy because he knew what I was going through because he had been through the same thing and he knew that wasn’t the real Karo he fought in the cage that night. That meant a lot to me,” he admits. “Ryan Ford is not an easy opponent. He’s a strong, tough guy who has been fighting for a while and has beaten some good opponents. I could have taken an easier fight, but I don’t want to take a fight with an easy opponent. He’s won championships and he’s no pushover. At the end of the day it’s business. When I walk in the cage I’m going to go after Ryan and I will do whatever I can to beat him.”