When he dropped from the UFC to the WEC - and from lightweight to featherweight - no one was sure what to make of Manny Gamburyan. Was his skill set too limited? Did he have enough to compete at that stacked weightclass? Did his time pass?
After dropping his last two fights in the UFC at lightweight, he's rattled off three consecutive wins in the WEC at featherweight. And he's never looked more well-rounded in his professional MMA career.
Gamburyan is preparing for the biggest fight of his life. He takes on current WEC featherweight champion Jose Aldo on September 30th as the main event of WEC 51. We caught up with Gamburyan on MMA Nation on 106.7 The Fan to see where he's at, gauge his preparation and ask him about this critical bout in his career. He told us about his training, but also about his relationship with UFC welterweight and cousin Karo Parisyan, training with Olympic judoka Rhonda Rousey and nagging shoulder injuries.
You can listen to the entire interview here for those using mobile devices. Full audio player here:
LT: Joining us now on the line is one of the top featherweights in the world. He ranks #2 in the SBNation/USAToday Consensus MMA Rankings. He takes on Jose Aldo in arguably the biggest fight of his career at WEC 51. The one and only Manvel "The Anvil" Gamburyan joins the show. Manny, how are you, sir?
MG: I'm great, man. Thanks for having me on the show, guys.
LT: I'm happy to have you on here. Hey, Manny, I can't make claims to be fully Armenian. I'm only half - my mother was Armenian. Let me ask you about something you said in your win over Mike Brown. You had mentioned, at the time, the anniversary of the Armenian genocide. Did the WEC say anything to you about that? Were they in any way upset? Did they make any comment about that? Because it's kind of a political thing. How did that happen behind the scenes?
MG: I don't know, man. I got a call from my matchmaker, Sean Shelby, you know, he said, "Manny, you're fighting. The fight is on." I didn't even ask. He goes, "you're fighting April 24th." I got goosebumps right away. I didn't even ask who I'm fighting and he goes, "Manny, you're fighting Mike Brown." I'm like, "that's great, even greater."
LT: But when you mentioned the Armenian genocide, did they get upset at all?
MG: No, not really, man. No, not at all.
MG: Not at all.
LT: Alright, again, that fight's gonna be September 30, live on Versus at the FirstBank Center in Broomfield, Colorado. Manny, a lot of folks here - we run BloodyElbow.com - they had a ton of questions about the decision to drop to featherweight. Overall, what was it? What compelled you to say, "I can be more competitive at featherweight than I can at lightweight?"
MG: My last fight in the UFC against Thiago Tavares, I felt disadvantaged. You know, he overpowered me with like 20 to 25 pounds. I walked in the ring at around 160, 161. I even asked him after the fight how much he weighed and he said about 185. I felt like it was a disadvantage and I had to make a move. Thanks to Joe Silva, he offered me to fight in the WEC, he thought I could do much better here. And here I am fighting in the biggest fight of my career.
LT: Were you at all worried about the drop to the WEC when it comes to purse pay? Typically the WEC doesn't pay as well as the UFC.
MG: Not at all. I'm getting paid the same over here as I was with the UFC. They're being very good to me. I'm happy with it.
LT: Very cool. Now, are you still with Gokor Chivichyan?
MG: Yes, I am.
LT: I heard this rumor, confirm it if it's true - are you training at all with U.S. Olympian Ronda Rousey?
MG: Yeah, of course.
LT: Okay, so, how is she gonna do at MMA? Listen, I've seen some of her amateur grappling competitions, and obviously we've seen what she did in the Olympics. She's a fantastic competitor. Talk about her chances in MMA. What's her upside?
MG: Man, she's an animal, dude. I'm serious. I've known this girl since probably when she was 10 years old and she's been an animal ‘til now, man. She's improving day by day, her striking is getting way better, her wrestling's getting-- she's just all over the place, man. She's gonna be really good and I think she's gonna be a big challenge for-- what was her name? That unbeatable girl? I forgot her name. "Cyborg."
LT: Oh, yes. Is she gonna be about 145 when she competes?
MG: Yeah, she walks around at like 150, so she's gonna be cool. She's like 153-4, at most.
LT: Is she gonna have a style like you and Karo? I don't know how to describe this. Is she gonna be "Judo-centric?" Are you gonna see lots of Judo from her?
MG: She understands that this is not Judo, this is different martial arts. Little by little, she knows that punching is involved, kicking is involved, knees are involved, elbows. You know, she's doing really good, man. I'm impressed, and day by day, she's getting better.
LT: I want to talk to you about your cousin Karo Parisyan. He did well at Impact FC a couple months ago, and now of course he has resigned with the UFC. What type of communication have you had with him about that? How is he doing?
MG: To be honest, I haven't talked to him or seen him. We keep in touch sometimes. I wish him good luck against Dennis Hallman at UFC 123, and if there's anything I can help him with in preparing for that I'd be happy to.
LT: I don't want to pry too much, but what's your relationship like with him? Are you guys close?
MG: Right now, not too close. He's doing his thing and I'm doing mine.
LT: Let's talk about Jose Aldo. Tough guy, has shown an unbelievable capacity to demolish everyone in his wake. What can you do that Mike Brown and Urijah Faber could not to him?
MG: To be honest with you, I respect Jose Aldo. He's a true champion. He's a phenomenal fighter, but whatever he can do, I can do it too. He's a better striker, most definitely, we all know that, but I can strike too. I can hit hard. I've been working on my wrestling, my jiu-jitsu, my conditioning, I'm just ready to go. I can't wait for that date to come so finally I can get that belt.
LT: You were never out of shape when you fought in the UFC, and tell me if I'm wrong, but you seem to more muscular now than you used to be. Is that right?
MG: I don't care about the muscles, I just want to prove I'm the best. Every time I fight, I just want to improve. I'm not 19 or 20 anymore, I'm reaching my goals now. I've been training hard every day in my boxing, muay thai, clinch work, my wrestling. I don't care if my body is getting bigger or smaller. I don't care about what I'm gonna weigh the day of the fight. As long as I'm healthy and ready and feel sharp, that's all that matters.
LT: Is your conditioning different now because of the weight drop?
MG: Yeah of course, I'm quicker and more in shape now. I've been doing a lot of conditioning work. I've been in camp for five months already and I'm sick and tired of it. I just want to go out there and kick some ass.
LT: I want to ask about your shoulder. Where is your shoulder today? How healthy is it?
MG: It's never gonna be 100%, even if I operated on it, it won't be the same. But it's holding up for me, so i can't complain.
LT: Did you ever get surgery on it?
MG: No, never got it.
LT: So it was a rotator cuff thing?
MG: Yeah, it was.
LT: Did the doctors recommend surgery?
MG: Yeah, they said I needed it. But they said I would be out 16 months if I got it. I said count me out. I'm gonna rehab it.
LT: That's the truth. If you're out, the minimum you'll be out is a year. The minimum.
MG: Yeah, I mean, how do you feel now?
LT: Well, here's what I'll say: the doctor told me, "six months, you'll be back." It just wasn't true. In six months, I could reach for stuff out of the cupboard, but I couldn't bench press 45 pounds. It was too damaged. So that was in May of '09. It's now September of '10. I can bench press, you know, a lot now, but it took a long, long, painful recovery. It was terrible, so I understand. You know, guys get injured and they say they fight to not get inured anymore. Is it ever on your mind, the injury?
MG: No, I don't care about getting hurt, or injured, or cut. As long as I'm winning the fight, that's all that matters to me.
LT: Again, if you're joining the show here on 106.7 The Fan, Manvel "The Anvil" Gamburyan taking on Jose Aldo, September 30th at the WEC event at FirstBank Center in Broomfield, Colorado. Gokor is gonna be in your corner - who else?
MG: My boy Edmond, J.J., and my boy Georgi Karakhanyan who just fought in Bellator.
LT: What's the relationship between you ang Georgi?
MG: Well, he's my training partner for this fight. He fights exactly like Jose Aldo, so he's mostly my training partner, him and Francisco Rivera, lot of good guys. I got a bunch of good guys training with me, a lot of good stand-up guys. I'm getting my ass kicked every single day, but hey, I'm gonna be ready for September 30th. That's all that matters.
LT: Talk to me about Jose Aldo's takedown defense. What would you say about it?
MG: He has phenomenal takedown defense. But if you mix it up with him, we'll see. I have a good game plan for him.
LT: Obviously you have to be 100% focused on Jose Aldo, but do you ever think about other guys in the division you'd like to face?
MG: There's a bunch of good guys out there. This 145-pound class is amazing. I'm glad to be a part of this class. Chad Mendes, Mike Brown, Leonard Garcia, Mark Hominick, Josh Grispi, L.C. Davis, Cub Swanson; I can name guys all day. It's just a phenomenal group of people. I would love to fight any of them.
MG: I would love for them to be part of the WEC. Joe Warren too, he's a very good wrestler. And Georgi, I would like to take that challenge and even beat him.
LT: Back to Jose Aldo, you've admitted that he's the better striker and you're probably the better wrestler. Is wrestling your strongest asset?
MG: My strongest thing is my heart.
LT: Why is that?
MG: I train like a madman, and when you train like a madman, you fight like a madman also. When you feel you're ready, you fight like a man. That's about it.
LT: Does it matter to you that your fighting in Colorado at high altitude?
MG: Not a problem, I'm ready to go.
LT: Have you done it before?
MG: I fought Jeff Cox at the same place.
LT: But in fairness, Jeff Cox is not Jose Aldo.
MG: A fight is a fight, anything can happen.
LT: That's true. But you would admit the air in Denver is much harder to breathe, right?
MG: It is. I'm going out there more than a week in advance. I'll be fine.
LT: Did you do that the last time you fought there?
MG: Yes, I went there about five days in advance.
LT: Now, I have to ask you, are you on Facebook or Twitter anywhere?
MG: Yes, you can tweet me at @MannyGamburyan. On MySpace, I have [www.myspace.com/pitbullmanny]. I don't even know what's my Facebook, dude.
LT: I'm sure we could search and find it, though.
MG: Yeah, yeah.
LT: Alright, let me ask you one last thing before we let you go here. Your role as kind of an underdog, a lot of people- I mean, I think when you dropped to featherweight, everyone thought that was gonna be better for you, but in terms of the match-ups you've had, I think people have said, "well, maybe he was an underdog here." I think you were the underdog definitely against Brown. You're the underdog here. Do you like that role? Are you resentful of it?
MG: Most definitely. I always like the underdogs, always.
MG: It's better, you know? It's better for me. I have nothing to worry about. He has everything what I want. Jose Aldo is the key right now, right? Everybody wants to get that belt, so he's the target right now. I have nothing to lose, man. He has everything what I want, and I'm gonna go get it.
LT: Have you ever faced a guy like Jose Aldo?
MG: In practice, every single day.
LT: Good answer.
MG: Not in fighting, though. But I will face him, and I will give a great fight, I promise you guys.
LT: Well, we certainly hope for one and we certainly expect one. WEC 51 takes place September 30th at the FirstBank Center in Broomfield, Colorado. Manny Gamburyan in the biggest fight-- this is the biggest fight of your career, is it not?
MG: Most definitely it is. Most definitely.
LT: He takes on Jose Aldo, the #1 featherweight in the world, on Versus. Manny, best of luck to you. Thank you for being on MMA Nation and we wish you a great fight against Jose Aldo.
MG: Thank you, guys. Thank you for having me on.