TUF 12: Sako Chivitchian on Manny Gamburyan's Advice, Dane Sayers and Wild Card

Elliot OlshanskyCorrespondent INovember 2, 2010

Sako Chivitchian got Team Koscheck a much-needed win last week on The Ultimate Fighter.
Sako Chivitchian got Team Koscheck a much-needed win last week on The Ultimate Fighter.

Last week on the Ultimate Fighter, Team Koscheck enjoyed a “psychotic episode.”

In the last preliminary fight, “The Armenian Psycho,” Sako Chivitchian, gave Team Koscheck its second win of the prelim round, defeating Team GSP’s Dane “Red Horse” Sayers by unanimous decision after two rounds. Coming from the same Hayabustan Studio that produced TUF 5 finalist Manvel “The Anvil” Gamburyan, Chivitchian struggled with the surprising Sayers but showed effective ground-and-pound in his win over Team GSP’s last pick.

Late last week, Chivitchian spoke with UltimateFighter.com and Bleacher Report.

Just for starters, we don’t see many judoka in the UFC, relative to the wrestlers, jiu-jitsu practitioners and kickboxers. Why do you think that is?

Judo is a very good base to have in MMA, but because it is a stand-up gi sport, I believe wrestlers have a little bit more advantage because you fight without a gi, and you wrestle without a gi. Not every judo fighter can adapt or transfer their judo game to an MMA fight. There’s Olympic judo champions and world judo champions that come to MMA and can’t even use any of their judo. But then, you have guys like Karo Parisyan and myself, we come from the same camp.

We have a system where we’ve been doing judo and sambo and grappling all mixed together, so we can transfer our judo game much better into an MMA fight and make it work. Also, a lot of the judo fighters that go to MMA are from Japan, because in the United States, judo is not the most popular sport. Wrestling is much more popular than judo. You don’t have high school judo or college judo. Judo is more of a private sport. You’ve got to go to a club and join a club team and be part of it. That’s why there’s not so much judo in the UFC. But, if you watch a DREAM fight, you see a lot more Japanese judo guys, because that’s where it’s most popular.

You mention the camp that you come from and Karo Parisyan. Manny Gamburyan’s also in your camp, right?

Yeah, Karo Parisyan, Manny Gamburyan, myself and Sevak Magakian, we’re all from the same camp, under Gokor Chivitchian, who’s actually my uncle. He comes from world-class judo, world-class sambo and submission wrestling and everything. He’s the one who trained all of us since we were seven or eight-years-old. 

So, when you were getting ready to be on the show, having someone in your camp who’d already been through it, as Manny had, did he give you a good idea of what to expect in the time you were spending out in Vegas?

I’ve been close with Manny almost 20 years, childhood buddies, we grew up together. When he went on The Ultimate Fighter, and he came back and told me the whole experience that he went through, I knew it was going to be tough. He told me how tough it was mentally, being in that house and being isolated from the real world, no contact. But as much as I knew, and as much as I tried to prepare myself when I went, you’re not going to be able to know exactly how it is.

I remember him telling me I would think about it and think, “Whatever. I’m going to be strong. I’m going to get through it.” But it was a mental battle. It was one of the toughest things I did, but it was one of the best experiences at the same time. That was one of the things Manny told me: “It’s going to be one of the toughest things that you will ever do in your life, but it’s going to be one of the best experiences.” That was exactly right.

You mention being cut off from the outside world, but the one thing that you had that not too many guys who have gone on the show have had, was as close a friend as you have in Sevak. Did you get a sense of how much of a difference that made?

Oh, yeah. I think that we were blessed for having the opportunity to be in this together. I did appreciate every moment of having him there and try to use that as some sort of advantage. Being away from your friends and family, I’m a very family-oriented person, so just having him next to me gave me the sense of having somebody from home. I felt like I was at home. Seeing him every day kind of reminded me of home and my family and friends, kept me mentally sane and gave me a little bit of motivation and confidence, which I truly appreciated.

Now, in the fight right before yours, Sevak lost to Jonathan Brookins. Because you two were both representing the same camp, did Sevak losing his fight put any more pressure on you to win your fight?

It definitely put a lot of pressure on me. I was pretty pissed, pretty sad that he lost. I would have loved that we both won that round going into the quarterfinals, but since he lost, I felt like, “You know what? I have a little bit more to prove than just fighting for myself. I can’t let my camp down. I can’t let Team Koscheck down. I felt a lot more pressure, especially being the last fight and us being down five to one in the preliminary round.

Koscheck told me we couldn’t have only one guy going into the quarterfinals, but I’m the type of person who tries to stay mentally focused. I’ve been through a lot of competition in judo, world class competition since I was a kid and I perform well under pressure. I think it brings the best out of me, so that’s what happened in that fight, and why I was able to pull off a win.

Now, the fight itself, one of the things I noticed is that Dane was actually trying a lot of the different trips and things like that. It looks like he spent some of the time trying to beat you at your own game. How much of a surprise was that?

It was a huge surprise. I will admit that I went into the fight a bit underestimating Red Horse, Dane Sayers’ wrestling game and his strength. I was under the perception that I was going to have easier takedowns on him. A lot of people don’t know this, but Dane Sayers used to be a light heavyweight. I don’t usually underestimate fighters, but I did underestimate his wrestling game a little bit, and he did surprise me when he was trying to do trips on me, but thank God he didn’t score the takedown, and I was able to get takedowns on him. He was much tougher than I expected, and he has a lot of heart, but at the same time, I have a lot of heart, and I wanted that more, and that’s why I made sure I got a unanimous decision.

The other thing I was wondering about was the early part of the fight, where Dane got the guillotine choke on you. One of the things that I’ve seen people talking about is changing the way that MMA is judged, and one of the things that they suggest is that if you can get a choke on somebody but you don’t submit him, it should be looked at the same way as if you knock the guy down but don’t get the knockout or TKO. Do you think they should do that when they’re judging fights?

You know, when it comes to the judging part, I’m a fighter. I’m the type of fighter, when I go in to fight, my main goal is to finish the fight, but if that’s the case where they would consider that and count that, then obviously, I think some guys’ game plans would be a bit different, and they’d be more cautious about how they shoot for the takedowns and stuff like that.

I knew when Dane went for my neck that I have a pretty good guillotine defense, so when he went for it, I already had my hand in there and I had his wrist. I felt pretty safe, and I felt him going on his back, so I took that time for him to go on his back so I can be in his guard when I get my neck out and have top position to score some points on the ground and pound. He did have my head, but he didn’t have my throat. But like you say, that’s something that they might change in the future. If they did, I would have to add that into my game plan. 

Now the last thing is, I know there’s been a lot of talk in the reaction to the show since it aired, there’s been a lot of people talking about the wild card, whether it should have been Dane or whether it should have been Marc Stevens or whoever else. Between fighting Dane and being in practice with all the other guys who were up for the wild card, you’re the only one who has some experience with all of the guys who were up for the wild card. If Dana had come to you and said, “You’ve sparred with these five guys and you fought Dane, so who are the two best,” what would you have told him?

No. 1, I thought the guy who truly deserved to be in the wild card position—and a lot of the guys agreed on both the yellow and red team—was Aaron Wilkinson. Aaron Wilkinson was a big underdog. He fought the No. 1 pick of GSP’s team, and a lot of people think that it was a very close two rounds, and the judges could have gave him the first two rounds. We all agreed that he deserved that one spot.

After that, it was Stevens and Dane, and after my fight, they said that Dane’s nose was probably fractured or broken. They don’t talk about that on the show, but that’s one thing I remember GSP and Koscheck saying. So, between Sevak, Marc Stevens and Andy Main and Jeff, I thought Sevak was the most talented, and I wanted him to get the pick, but Sevak—this is another thing they didn’t mention—had hurt his ribs before the Jonathan Brookins fight during practice with Nam Phan. So he was out of the picture, and that kind of left Marc Stevens. I guess he looked best on paper, so I think that’s why Koscheck went with him.