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Strongman Sinks Teeth Into Boxing

Famous in the former Soviet Union for the power of his jaws, Robert Galstyan tries a new career.

August 24, 2003|Michael Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

Talk about a bite.

Robert Galstyan made the biggest, orneriest pit bull seem weak-jawed. He has overpowered airplanes, moved trains, held down helicopters -- all with his powerful jaws and teeth.

Galstyan, a strong man renowned for such feats in Russia, Armenia and other republics of the former Soviet Union, is as powerful today as ever, but his celebrity status has faded like the pages of the old Guinness Book of Records he shows off that list some of his major feats of strength.

Unemployed until a month ago, Galstyan, 44, now delivers food for a Pizza Hut in North Hollywood.

He had worked in the Los Angeles Jewelry Mart downtown until the weak economy cost him his job.

"When I heard he was living here and not working, I felt really bad and asked him if he wanted a job," said Antranig Andy Grigoryan, the owner of Kosmos Grocery in Van Nuys. "Like almost everybody in Armenia, I had heard about him when I lived there. So I called some friends and got him a job."

For fans of the mighty Galstyan, who came to the United States in 1994, Grigoryan's sentiments are a common reaction.

"You're kidding," said former Muscovite Dikran Hovsepyan, when told that Galstyan was in the back stockroom of Grigoryan's small market. He went back to shake Galstyan's hand, saying, "I was wondering a month ago whatever happened to you."

Galstyan's most noted feat of strength was accomplished in Moscow on July 21, 1992, when he pulled two railroad cars weighing more than 400,000 pounds 23 feet using his teeth. Another time, he kept a helicopter from taking off by holding it down with a rope held by, yes, his choppers.

But pulling trains and grounding aircraft with your teeth has limited monetary benefits and creates a dental nightmare -- all of Galstyan's top teeth are gone.

Now the compact 5-foot-7, 172-pound strongman, who lives in North Hollywood with his wife, Larise, is hoping to make a comeback -- in the boxing ring.

He has been training at Jet's Gym in North Hollywood with kickboxing icon Benny Urquidez. His goal is to get to 160 pounds and fight as a middleweight.

Galstyan boxed in the mid-1990s and was undefeated in four fights, winning three by knockouts. But he left the ring to take care of family and financial matters. Now he's training hard and, although he's old for a boxer, he's confident his strength will keep him undefeated.

With Grigoryan's help, Galstyan found a sponsor, New York businessman Karan Gevorkyan, who helps with expenses, including paying for his trainer, Stan Ward, a former California heavyweight champion and sparring partner of Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Evander Holyfield.

"Robert hits harder than anyone I've ever seen, even Joe Frazier," said Ward as he watched Galstyan brutalize a heavy bag at Jet's Gym. "There's a snap and pop to his punches. Even when he's hitting the mitt on my hand, it stings all the way up my arm to my shoulder and back."

Galstyan, who plans to reapply on Monday for his California professional boxing license, wasn't always strong. As a boy, he was a weakling, he said.

"When I was 14, I was skinny, had no power, the girls didn't like me," said Galstyan, sipping thick Armenian coffee. "One day I went to church and prayed to Jesus I could be strong. Ever since that day I felt different, more energy, you understand? I started to get strong."

He developed his muscular physique through old-fashioned hard work.

"I worked the land, digging, planting, working the ground," said Galstyan, muscles visible under a snug, sweat-soaked T-shirt. "I'm as strong as ever now. I can run for 30 minutes and my pulse doesn't go up at all."

On Friday afternoon at Jet's Gym, where a man covered with tattoos hit a heavy bag and a thin teenage prospect sparred in the lone ring, Galstyan was pounding the speed bag so furiously it sounded like a jackhammer. Every now and then he unloaded a thunderous straight right jab at the bag.

"I don't want to hit it too hard," he said with a sly grin. "It might blow up."

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