More than just another fighter training center, at a time when one seems to be springing up on every other corner, the Glendale Fighting Club has transcended that status and become a hub of activity and a touchstone of significance in the fighting scene, both near and far.
The modest yet sparklingly clean and well-outfitted corner shop situated among rows of car dealerships on Brand Blvd. serves as the base of operations for two longtime friends, Edmond Tarverdyan and George Bastrmajyan, who together comprise one of the fastest rising grass-roots enterprises in training, management and promotions in the current landscape of combat sports.
"I really don't have to go after fighters, people just come to us now," says Bastrmajyan, who co-founded Lights Out Promotions with Tarverdyan in 2004. "Everything's coming together. Right now, the sky is the limit."
For GFC proprietor Tarverdyan, a highly respected and sought-after trainer in boxing and striking technique with a client list that includes established, as well as, up-and-coming names in boxing and mixed martial arts, and his partner Bastrmajyan, who manages and coordinates promotions for much of the same talent, success didn't come overnight.
At the ripe old age of 29, Tarverdyan has been studying martial arts since he was 7 and has been training others for more than half of his life. He's also basking in retirement from a professional Muay Thai kickboxing career that netted him a slew of world title belts.
His journey began in his hometown of Kirovakan, Armenia, where he first began to study karate and boxing with his brother Raymond and his uncle Zhorzik.
"In Armenia, martial arts was so popular because of Bruce Lee," Tarverdyan says. "Everybody either did karate or anything like that."
By 8, Tarverdyan had arrived in Glendale with his family and by his teenage years was working with renowned amateur trainer Ken Harutyunyan.
"Any stand-up fighting, we did pretty much everything," Tarverdyan said. "When I was 16, I wanted to get more serious, into something where there was a professional league and there was nothing except Muay Thai.
"The good thing about our gyms is that we always had the martial arts programs and boxing, as well, so we always did both. No ground fighting because UFC back then wasn't that big and we never thought it would be that big."
While Tarverdyan claims to never have seen the explosion of MMA coming, his expertise honed in various fighting styles from boxing to karate to sanshou to tae kwon do and Muay Thai over a fighting career that traversed the globe laid the groundwork for the interdisciplinary proficiency that makes him such a valuable trainer in boxing and MMA today.
In 1998, Harutyunyan passed on to Tarverdyan the day-to-day operations of his gym on the corner of Maple Street and Glendale Avenue and Tarverdyan's teaching career began to flourish alongside his career as a competitor.
"I had to change everything around under my brother's name because I [couldn't] own a business legally when I was 16." says Tarverdyan, a former World Boxing Council Muay Thai champion. "It was cool. I started working with the kids and training myself, competing. All of a sudden, I got like 40-50 kids within a month and I had to do more classes."
Bastrmajyan's life became interwoven with martial arts in the wake of the murder of his best friend when he was 17.
"I honestly didn't know what to do, I was confused," Bastrmajyan, 31, says. "I was with my friend all the time."
Looking to fill the void in his life, Bastrmajyan got into Muay Thai with the help and training of a friend and began to notice Tarverdyan's name and picture in fight posters and publications.
When he eventually needed a new place to train in 1999, he sought out Tarverdyan at his gym on Maple, which had since expanded to include the neighboring space.
"Actually it was called Ed's Karate," Bastrmajyan says. "The sign was so small, he couldn't fit anything else on there."
The two hit it off and formed a tight relationship, with Tarverdyan guiding Bastrmajyan through his own career from local smoker shows to his pro debut, and Bastrmajyan becoming a right-hand man in the gym's operations.
Not long after, Bastrmajyan spent a month in Thailand studying Muay Thai at its point of origin. He brought back some established fighters to work with Tarverdyan and so started the duo's handling of pro fighters as a team.
It's certainly been a busy year for the GFC, which moved to its present location in 2006 and has continued to grow its brand and reputation since. Lights Out Promotions has also reached some milestones this year.
Tarverdyan's resume as a trainer is littered with past success stories and big names, such as former WBO featherweight titlist William Abelyan and Artyom Simonyan, who challenged Israel Vazquez for the IBF super bantamweight title in 2004. In 2010, Tarverdyan trained mixed martial artist Manny Gamburyan, known more for his grappling prowess, for a first-round knockout of Mike Thomas Brown at a World Extreme Cagefighting event, in which Gamburyan earned a sizable bonus for knockout of the night and a subsequent title shot.
Similarly, Bastrmajyan could point to his formative managerial role in shaping the careers of a number of MMA fighters, including Sevak Magakian and Karen Darabedyan, and his past promotional successes with Lights Out include selling out the Hollywood Park Casino for one of Tarverdyan's comeback fights several years ago.
But 2011 has seen the two men reach new heights in the respective and collaborative efforts.
New to the GFC fold this year are undefeated Glendale boxer Vanes "Nightmare" Martirosyan and rising MMA women's star Ronda Rousey, both of whom are former Olympians.
"Every sport they have going on in that gym, they have the best trainers," Martirosyan says. "They're teaching you the art of the sport and people appreciate that and people want to go learn that. If they want to know real boxing, that's where they go.
"When you walk in there, you feel like you're in a boxing gym, you're not just in a playground."
Martirosyan is 2-0 with a pair of knockouts since adding Tarverdyan to a training staff that was already headed by Freddie Roach, viewed by many as the top boxing trainer in the world. Still, Martirosyan, who defeated Saul Roman for the WBC Silver light middleweight title in June, credits Tarverdyan with making him an even better fighter.
"He did change my boxing game a little bit to be more slick," Martirosyan says. "Freddie is more explosive with combinations and Edmond taught me the art of boxing. We went back to the basics.
"Edmond became my friend and got into my head and saw how I am personally and that's why it started to work,"
The presence alone of Martirosyan, who is ranked fourth in the world in the junior middleweight division by The Ring Magazine and is the No. 1 WBC contender, has raised the GFC's profile, as a small horde of media and Top Rank Promotions brass headed by CEO Bob Arum recently descended on the club for a public workout with Martirosyan.
Rousey, a bronze medalist in judo in the 2008 Olympics, has attracted plenty of media attention to the club herself, leading up to her major promotion debut against Sarah D'Alelio at Strikeforce 18 in Las Vegas on Aug. 12 in which she improved to 3-0.
"We got along from the beginning," says Rousey, who has been cornered by Tarverdyan for all three of her pro fights. "They're willing to invest time with me. A lot of places aren't. I'm treated more like an equal, unlike somebody who should be lucky to be in their presence. It's more like a partnership."
And, not to be forgotten in 2011's hit parade is boxer Art "Lionheart" Hovhannesyan, the longest-tenured current member of the GFC and Lights Out stable, who has looked to Tarverdyan and Bastrmajyan for all his training and management needs since arriving in Glendale in 2007 to take his pro career to the next level.
"They are with me like a friend and they have helped me a lot," Hovhannesyan says. "They are doing everything for me.
"I trust [Tarverdyan]. If I didn't trust him, I wouldn't work with him. …George I think is going to be like a young Don King."
Currently unbeaten at 14-0-2, the Armenian native is coming off back-to-back fights on Showtime and ESPN2 and will fight again on Showtime on Sept. 30, according to Bastrmajyan, who hopes to see his client and friend challenge for a world title soon.
"It's very big now," Tarverdyan says of the GFC's membership and association, which also includes boxing prospect Gapo Tolmajyan and mixed martial artist Roman Mitichyan. "I'm starting to choose who I should work with. I'll help anybody who wants to learn, but I put most of my time into people who I think are going to make it out there.
"It's grown a lot. I'm really happy, we're getting big names out here."
Bastrmajyan scored a big coup of his own this year when he co-promoted an HBO-televised bout with Don King Promotions between his client Yusaf Mack and Tavoris Cloud for the IBF light heavyweight title.
"It was kind of cool to be on TV and HBO and for them to announce Don King Productions in association with Lights Out Promotions," says Bastrmajyan, who has also worked on local promotions in conjunction with Glendale-based Art of Boxing Promotions and Bash Boxing. "It was like, 'Cool, I made it.'"
With each relying on their area of expertise, Tarverdyan and Bastrmajyan have come upon a partnership that is golden, not just for the two men, but seemingly for all fortunate enough to work with them. Both are focused on the vision of a wide-open future made possible by the experience of the past.
"As we get bigger, we'll sign fighters," Tarverdyan says. "But it's good that both of us understand what we're doing. He concentrates more on [the promotions] and I concentrate on the fighters."
"Management is very important. Now, with 10 years passed, I think we understand [the business] much more than we did. We know and we have our fighters fighting at a high level and we know what it takes to get the fighters up there."
Says Bastrmajyan: "He lets me handle the business end of it. I talk to all the promoters, managers, I promote the events. He trusts me to book the fighters in whatever fights I want them to fight in and I trust him to train them to win those fights. We're like the yin and yang."