The Ben Henderson-Donald Cerrone-Jamie Varner merry-go-round that is better known as the Lightweight division of the WEC is in danger of derailment at the hands of the best young prospect in the organization (assuming that we are past the point of thinking of Jose Aldo as a "prospect"). In November of 2009 Karen Darabedyan won a decision victory over former Lightweight champ Rob McCullough, my first and only opportunity to see him fight and his maiden voyage in the WEC. It was enough to thoroughly impress. Darabedyan displayed very slick boxing, landing punches in combination with expert timing, good speed and impressive power. The punches found McCullough's chin on a regular basis over the course of the three round bout, seating him on the canvas on more than one occasion. True, McCullough is more well known for his offensive explosiveness and durability than his ability to avoid getting hit, as was showcased in his bouts with both Cerrone and Varner, but in those bouts he managed to return the favor. Cerrone makes himself even more dangerous with his willingness to put himself in jeopardy in order to exchange, which earned him several early knock-downs of McCullough, but left him open to incurring heavy retaliation. Varner, the better boxer of the two, did a much better job of avoiding McCullough's offense, but encountered some powerful shots none the less. Darabedyan's performance was the best of the three, landing solid punches in combination and escaping more or less untouched, save a few leg and body kicks in the third round which were too little, too late anyway. Likely due in no small part to his amatuer boxing background (12-0 by the age of 18), Darabedyan's pugilism is of the highest level yet seen at 155 lbs. in the WEC.
Even more impressive is that he is an equally accomplished grappler, holding first place wins in reputable grappling tournaments and earning two Judo state championships in high school (placing 3rd in the country). He is also a long time training partner of Karo Parisyan and Manny Gamburian, very solid company in which to hone one's skills.
I see Darabedyan matching up well with all three of the WEC top lightweights (the aforementioned trio) and with a couple more impressive performances could be looking at a bout with any of the three and a title shot soon after. I see Karen using his Judo to keep the fight standing (hardly much of a task against Cerrone or Varner who seem to prefer to stand and trade anyway) and scoring points with superior boxing en route to decision victories and KO's, a game plan that seems feasible against all three opponents.
Darabedyan's next fight is against Bart Palaszewski and I am already salivating at the opportunity to bet on this fight. Bart is a well-rounded veteran with plenty of experience who has earned respect in the sport. But Karen is going to dismantle him with well timed, well placed punches. With my primary basis being their most recent performances I find Palaszewski to be greatly overmatched in every significant category. I see Darabedyan punishing and frustrating Bart with superior boxing early and then thwarting the takedown later on in order to dish out more of the same. The lines on this fight have not been released yet, but at pretty much any odds I am betting big on Karen. This win will serve as a wake-up call the rest of the division and shortly thereafter we will be hearing Darabedyan's name in conjuction with one or all of the WEC's Lightweight big three.