BURBANK — Jared Papazian's road back to the Ultimate Fighting Championship took a significant detour.
Thus, the fighter out of Burbank Gracie Barra has decided to take another path.
Following a first-round submission loss to the undefeated Brandon Bender in Woodland Hills on May 11, Papazian came to the decision that he would put off his next mixed martial arts bout in order to become a better all-around MMA fighter.
"I don't want to compete in MMA until my ground game is legit," said Papazian, who fights out of Burbank Gracie Barra. "Everybody knows that I'm really disappointed [with] my ground game."
Facing a jiu jitsu black belt in Bender (11-0), Papazian knew what was likely coming in their three-round bout, but was ultimately unable to stop the vaunted submission game of his opponent and was submitted for the sixth time in his MMA career.
"It really made me think," said Papazian of the loss. "I made some mistakes."
Thus, a few days after the loss, Papazian decided he would refine his striking skills by taking on muay Thai kickboxing matches, potentially some boxing matches and, perhaps most importantly, would take part in jiu jitsu tournaments. Currently, he already has a muay Thai fight lined up for August and is set to partake in two jiu jitsu tournaments.
"Just gotta work on the jiu jitsu, that's the biggest hole in my game and everybody knows it," Papazian said. "If I fix that, I feel like I'm one of the top contenders in the world."
Papazian's lead trainer at Burbank Gracie Barra, Alberto Crane, is in full agreement with Papazian's decision to take time off from MMA competition to improve his overall MMA game.
"I think it's a great time," said Crane, who's a Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt and UFC veteran. "I think it's, for sure, the right decision.
"Honestly, he needs a reset."
A former King of the Cage champion, Papazian, who primarily fights in the 135-pound bantamweight class, has built a 15-10 record (with one no contest) and fought his way into the ranks of the UFC in early 2012. Papazian went 0-3 in the UFC, though his bouts were lauded for their excitement and he was rewarded with a bonus for two of them. Not long after his release from the UFC, Papazian, who made no reservations that he was set on fighting his way back to the UFC, got back to his winning ways with an impressive unanimous decision over Terrion Ware on March 15.
But his hopes of a quick ascent back to the UFC were derailed by the loss to Bender.
Papazian initially defended two takedown attempts by Bender, but eventually Bender was able to take Papazian's back and, on the ground, worked in a rear-naked choke and coaxed the tapout at the 2:01 mark of the first round. It was Bender's 10th submission win.
"Maybe it wasn't the best choice of a fight," said Papazian, who had nothing but praise for Bender and said he believed the prospect deserved to be in the UFC.
Papazian, who's been ultra-successful in his career by using Facebook and Twitter to challenge opponents, build hype for his bouts and to get fights, used social media to search out a top opponent for his May bout. When Bender came calling, Papazian said his manager Darin Harvey and some others were against it, but Papazian took it nonetheless.
"I always want to fight tough guys, I want to fight the best," Papazian said. "I don't want to fight bums; I want to fight guys that have big names."
Crane, for one, believes it was still a winnable fight and the result may pay off in the end, as it's set Papazian forth on another path.
"It was worth the risk, the guy's undefeated, he's a black belt," Crane said. "Honestly, I think it's still a fight he could've won if he would've defended the takedown better.
"It was a blessing in disguise."
Currently, Papazian is teaching muay Thai classes at Crane's Gracie Barra studio in Encino and Bas Rutten's Elite MMA in Westlake Village. He said he's slated to take part in a jiu jitsu tournament at the end of June and one at the UFC Fan Expo July 5-6 in Las Vegas. Thereafter, he has a muay Thai fight scheduled for Aug. 24 at the Pechanga Casino. He predicted his break from MMA competition could last from a year to three years.
"Win or lose, I'll get better at it, I'll learn from it," Papazian said.
A veteran of 26 MMA bouts, Papazian is still just 25 years old; hence Crane believes the timing of his move is good.
"He has time on his side, he's still very young," Crane said.
So, Papazian is now going forward on a journey to become an all-around fighter, looking to get back to where he once was, only to return even better.
"I just know I need to do this. If I don't do this, I'll never get back to the top again," Papazian said. "I feel like if I take a break from MMA for two or three years, I'm just getting better.
"I'm just using all this stuff to put my skills back to work as an MMA fighter."
And, as always, Crane is in his corner.
"I think the world hasn't seen half of what Jared can be. It's definitely the right decision," Crane said. "I believe in him and I believe he can get better."