This is the second in a series of articles examining the experiences of local fighters and coaches on “The Ultimate Fighter,” whether in past seasons or the current. The current season, “The Ultimate Fighter 18,” airs Wednesdays on Fox Sports 1, featuring Glendale-trained champion Ronda Rousey.
A radiologic technologist by day and a wrestling coach as often as his schedule permits, Andy Dermenjian always has grappling on his mind and in his heart.
Growing up, his father built a wrestling gym behind the house that would grow into SK Golden Boys, a training ground for much of the local fighting talent tucked away in suburbia, short on perks and long on hard work, tenacious training and building a wrestling foundation.
Thus, when his good friend Edmond Tarverdyan of the Glendale Fighting Club called and presented him with the opportunity of being an assistant coach on “The Ultimate Fighter” as part of Ronda Rousey’s coaching staff, Dermenjian was immediately intrigued.
“I train Edmond, I work with Ronda a lot, I knew Ronda before she was Ronda,” Dermenjian said. “So, when they asked me, I wanted to go, but I have a full-time job, I have a commitment, I’m married, I have a wife.
“But it all worked out.”
It worked out to where Dermenjian received time off to work with 16 Ultimate Fighting Championship hopefuls.
A longtime staple of the UFC, credited by many for igniting the company and the sport of mixed martial arts’ popularity surge, “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series has been a showcase for future UFC superstars, served as a foundation to build some of the promotion’s biggest bouts between opposing coaches and has, of course, made for plenty of reality highlights and low lights in its now 18 seasons.
Having aired on SpikeTV and FX before its current home on FOX Sports 1, ‘TUF’ is in its first season on the brand new network and for the first time is featuring female coaches and female fighters along with male fighters competing in separate 135-pound tournaments. Joining Dermenjian on Team Rousey, along with UFC women’s bantamweight champion Rousey and Tarverdyan, are Manny Gamburyan and Marina Shafir.
Much of the season has been marked by Team Rousey and Team Tate, led by Rousey’s archrival Miesha Tate and boyfriend Bryan Caraway, constantly feuding, making for some tense moments, in particular, when Tarverdyan had confrontations with Caraway and Tate guest coach Dennis Hallman. In both instances, Dermenjian was there to step in front of Tarverdyan and walk his friend away.
“That’s what they would all call me is the ‘Grounded One,’” Dermenjian said. “I would try to keep the peace.
“It was my idea to stop anything before it got too far.”
In response to what aired in the fourth episode between Tarverdyan and Hallman, Team Rousey fighter Shayna Baszler wrote in a blog that Hallman was specifically brought in by Team Tate in the hopes of egging on Tarverdyan and getting into an altercation that would’ve ended with Tarverdyan getting kicked off the show. Tarverdyan told the News-Press that only the tail end of the situation even aired, stating that Hallman had been staring him down during a prior weigh-in without provocation and that what actually was shown was only part of the altercation.
With Tarverdyan and Rousey getting some negative feedback on message boards and internet forums, Dermenjian is quick to point out there was much more that happened that isn’t shown.
“There is so much that went on and we’re just really seeing just a window of what went on,” Dermenjian said. “I don’t think people should judge just from the small pieces they’ve seen.”
The first bout of the women’s tournament didn’t fare well for Team Rousey, as Baszler, a longtime and much-respected veteran, was upset by Julianna Pena. Rousey was shown following the fight shedding tears over the loss and also had some harsh words for Tate. While Rousey’s reaction drew the ire of many in the Internet world, Dermenjian is quick to not only defend his friend, but also point out that those reactions were glimpses as to why Rousey is undefeated and the top female fighter in the UFC.
“When Shayna lost, that was very disappointing. When she lost, we all took it hard. ... As much as she lost, we all lost with her,” Dermenjian said. “It’s very hard as a coach to watch that and Ronda took that very hard. ... She doesn’t like losing, that what makes her champion. The reason she’s so passionate about the sport is why she’s got the belt, in my opinion.”
While the Rousey-Tate rivalry has garnered much of the attention surrounding the show, Dermenjian said the opportunity to coach such an array of young talent and the camaraderie was clearly the highlight for him.
“I was there as a wrestling coach and my job was to either teach you how to keep it standing or how to take it to the ground. ... It was my job to go in there and adapt to them,” Dermenjian said. “It got hard, but we pulled through it, hopefully our fighters got what they wanted. I think they did, they were all thanking us and that’s the most important thing is to give them what they deserve.
“We’re there for the fighters.”
Dermenjian was a fighter, as well, building a promising 4-1 MMA record with four stoppage victories in 17 months between January of 2009 and May of 2010. He put his career on hold when he took on an internship and realized his passion for coaching.
Still, he’s quick to admit that his time on “TUF” and around all the Team Rousey combatants rekindled his competitive fire.
“Oh man, oh my God. It’s amazing, you definitely have those feelings wake up in you, but, as a coach, you also live through the fighters vicariously,” Dermenjian said. “Will I ever fight again? I don’t know. ... I definitely don’t want to say I’ll never fight again.”
Would he ever coach on “TUF” again if the opportunity presented itself? While Rousey and Tarverdyan have gone on record saying they would not, Dermenjian, looking back, said he would.
“Honestly, if you asked me right after the show, I would say I would never do it again. Now, I would definitely do it again,” Dermenjian said of the roughly two-month process in which he stayed in Las Vegas apart from his wife and his everyday life. “It was definitely one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had. I made friends on that show that will be lifetime friends.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun