Travis Browne Is Still Training With Edmond Tarverdyan, so Let's Talk About Why That Sucks
Rumors of UFC heavyweight Travis Browne leaving Edmond Tarverdyan have been greatly exaggerated. Speaking with ESPN, Browne said he’s still training weekly with the Glendale Fighting Club coach ahead of his Feb. 19 bout with Derrick Lewis—newsworthy because Browne is 2-3 under Tarverdyan, including two straight losses, after going 7-2-1 to start his UFC career under the tutelage of Jackson Wink MMA.
It's also newsworthy because Tarverdyan was at the helm for the entirety of Ronda Rousey's career, and ever since her aura of invincibility vanished with catastrophic losses to Holly Holm in 2015 and Amanda Nunes in December—the latter in 48 one-sided seconds—Tarverdyan has been the target of animosity from fans, fighters, and media. The essential criticisms are that he's a crappy boxing coach who lucked into Rousey and rode her coattails, that he hypes up his fighters while neglecting aspects of training and cornering that actually matter.
Browne, however, is quick to defend his trainer. “I think it's easy to judge from the outside," he told ESPN. "Anybody that I've ever had in camp to work with me as a training partner is always like, 'Man, Edmond knows what he's talking about.' He has a great fight IQ. He has good coaching. It’s about the athletes going out there and performing. Every coach has lost. Every champion with the exclusion of Jon Jones, has lost. Why didn’t the community come down on those coaches?”
The answer: none of them carried the same baggage as Edmond Tarverdyan.
To be clear, despite charges for felony identity theft and resisting arrest, Tarverdyan isn't a terrible person, at least in a legal sense. And here's an unpopular opinion: some small part of me thinks Tarverdyan takes too much heat for his simplistic, sore-throat-screamed cornering advice. Sure, you look at the transcript of what he said to Rousey while Holm was waiting to kick her in the head, and it reads like delusion. But think about what a hyper-emotional fighter Rousey has been throughout her MMA career, and think even harder about how absolutely useless it is to give specific directions about footwork and turning punches over to someone in a high-stress situation, quaking with adrenaline and norepinephrine. Good coaches calibrate the substance and delivery of advice according to the temperament of the fighter, and only they know how much or how little to say.
However, Tarverdyan probably didn't offer more pointed instruction to Rousey not out of calculation, but out of cluelessness. After the Holm fight, he told ESPN: "I wouldn't say in the striking game she was getting the best of Ronda, you know, but I have to watch it again." Seriously? After watching your fighter get her face batted around like a tetherball and head-kicked unconscious, you've got to go back to the tape to find out who punched better?
The picture sharpens when you look at videos of Rousey's cringe-worthy mitt work, and especially when you glimpse the awful fortunes that have befallen fighters who decamped for Tarverdyan's gym:
Along with his defects as a coach, people who know Tarverdyan talk of his character flaws. Rousey’s mother famously said that he wouldn’t give Rousey—an Olympic medalist—the time of day when she first came to his gym. In her own memoir, Rousey talked about how Tarverdyan would purposely ignore, criticize, and upset her during sparring sessions. And in a revealing Bleacher Report piece, Leo Frincu, Rousey’s former strength trainer, talked about when Tarverdyan's emotionally toxic relationship with his star pupil boiled over while taping an episode of The Ultimate Fighter. “The way [Tarverdyan] talked to her—wow, what I witnessed," he said. "The way he talked to everybody, going on these rants. Cursing about how terrible she is. I didn’t feel physically safe. I’m a guy who can take care of himself, but I felt uncomfortable. The next morning I took a plane and I left.”
Contrast that memory with what Browne said about Tarverdyan to ESPN. “[Tarverdyan] doesn't care [about his reputation]. That's the difference. He doesn't care about looking good to everybody. He cares about being good to the people around him. Being a good coach. That’s why he doesn’t have 50 guys in his stable.”
Fighters can be defensive at criticisms of their training—understandably so, since most armchair critics don’t know a thing about training for a fight, let alone coaching. But only outsiders can see what Browne, Rousey, and the other Glendale fighters who stick by Tarverdyan’s side cannot: they dismiss Tarverdyan’s abrasiveness, his lapses in judgment, and his demonstrated failure in preparing his fighters to compete with defenses that defy logic. Browne sounds a little like he’s experiencing Stockholm syndrome, which would also go a long way toward explaining why Rousey stuck with Tarverdyan post-Holm and pre-Nunes instead of decamping for someplace else.
This gets to the heart of why Tarverdyan takes so much flack: he derailed the careers of fighters who probably would have done better without him. If Browne's words are any indication, he also seems to have convinced them that he's still a genuinely great coach. As long as Rousey was blitzing her competition, how many of us might keep thinking the same thing? Not anymore though.
Check out this related story:
The Mixed Martial Arts of Victorian London
Before BJJ, there was Bartitsu.
Jonathan Maicelo: The Last Inca
Peru's up-and-coming boxing star.
Kron Gracie on Jiu-Jitsu, Skateboarding, Older Brothers, and Famous Fathers
The ties that bind are strong.
Joel Tudor on the Art of Surfing, Fighting, and Style
A surf icon helps MMA keep its sense of tradition.
Japan's Karate Kid: Kyoji Horiguchi
Japan's brightest MMA prospect.