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Lightweights take center stage in Ultimate Finale
Lightweights take center stage in Ultimate Finale
By Mike Chiappetta
Posted: Jun.21, 2007, 1:30 pm EDT
In the last few years, UFC President Dana White has made more than his fair share of correct decisions. From seeing the promise in the then-fledgling UFC to launching a reality show to promoting sellout events across the world, the decisions he's made have repeatedly proven to be right.
And when he looked at Manny Gamburyan, he didn't see a championship-level fighter. At 5-foot-5, the kid was just too small, he thought. But he liked his energy and personality, and gave Gamburyan a spot on the most recent season of The Ultimate Fighter. Six weeks later, Gamburyan stunned White and MMA fans everywhere when he beat Noah Thomas, Matt Wiman and Joe Lauzon to advance to the Ultimate Finale.
There, Gamburyan will be taking on Nate Diaz as a featured match on the live card Saturday at 9 pm on Spike TV. At stake is a six-figure contract and a chance to be among the many TUF alumni to vault into stardom.
Which fighter will win the Ultimate Fighter finale?
"Dana underestimated me left and right," Gamburyan said in a recent phone interview. "He just didn't know what I was capable of. He knew I was a good fighter, but he didnít know how good I could be. He did apologize, though, and that was nice of him."
The Armenian-born fighter came to the US with his family in May 1991, and a few months later, joined a local judo gym after his cousin, fellow UFC fighter Karo Parisyan, introduced him to the sport. The pair have been training partners for 16 years. While Parisyan has been a star in the UFC for several years, the 24-year-old Gamburyan finally got his chance when he got a call about possibly participating in the show.
Ironically, he wasn't gung-ho from the outset, a bit put off by the hi-jinks and bad attitudes he'd seen on previous seasons.
"I said, 'Please, I hate that show,'" he said. "I wasn't a big fan of it. I'd watch it and think, 'What are these guys doing? They're killing each other, fighting in the house, going crazy. I thought it wasn't real. But [UFC matchmaker Joe Silva] told me, 'Manny, you donít know how big it is. It's huge. People will see you.' So I decided to give it a try."
When he arrived at the house in Las Vegas, he was soon struck by the monotony of the day. After daily training sessions were over, they returned to a home with no television, no phones, and no music. He began to understand why he'd seen previous competitors causing so many problems.
Which fighter will win the lightweight main event?
"When you're in the house, you realize why people did what they did: they're bored," he said. "There is nothing to do there. When you come home, there is really nothing to do. All you can do is fight, train and get bored. It was a crazy experience, but I would never go back again. Even if you gave me $100,000, I wouldn't go back."
While Diaz has instant name credibility because of his blood ties to brother Nick, a former UFC fighter and a man still considered one of the most entertaining fighters in the world, Gamburyan didn't come into the show quite as well known. Still, he's had wins in MMA matches with UFC veterans Sam Morgan and Jorge Santiago, and in 2001, when he was just 18 years old, he once went the distance with current UFC lightweight champ Sean Sherk, losing a decision.
"I was always very confident," Gamburyan said. "I've always trained hard. I don't care if my opponents are tall and big. I just want to win. When I started the show, I knew I was an underdog. I was the shortest guy on the show, but I knew I wasn't the weakest, that's for sure."
Gamburyan also takes confidence in the road he took the finals, beating a trio of experienced fighters while Diaz had a less bumpy road, submitting Rob Emerson before topping MMA newcomers Corey Hill and Gray Maynard.
"I'm not saying he hasn't fought good fighters, but I had a higher ladder to climb," he said. "Nate is a tough fighter, he's fought (current lightweight No. 1 contender) Hermes Franca before, so he has faced good fighters. But we trained together for six weeks. He knows what I'm going to do, and I know what he's going to do. It's going to come down to either technique or strength. I know that he's not very strong, and he's not very technical. I respect him, but I know I'm going to win."
Also featured on the card is the rematch of a 2002 match between B.J. Penn and Jens Pulver, the respective coaches of this season's TUF. In their first bout, Pulver won a decision over Penn, who sees the loss as the biggest blight on his record. The two haven't gotten along well in the years since, and their time together on the show didn't help matters. Penn hasn't fought at the 155-pound weight limit since 2003, so his willingness to drop weight to avenge his loss illustrates his motivation.
Sports Illustrated cover boy Roger Huerta will also fight his first match since being featured on the magazine, hoping to avoid the infamous cover jinx when he takes on Doug Evans. Huerta's last match was in April, when he defeated Leonard Garcia by decision in a brawl that is considered by many as an early contender for match of the year honors. Huerta's won seven straight matches, including all three of his UFC fights. Evans is 6-0 for his career, and is making his UFC debut.
Complete fight card
BJ Penn vs. Jens Pulver
Manny Gamburyan vs. Nate Diaz
Roger Huerta vs. Doug Evans
Floyd Sword vs. Thales Leites
Brandon Melendez vs. Joe Lauzon
Allen Berube vs. Leonard Garcia
Rob Emerson vs. Gray Maynard
Andy Wang vs. Cole Miller
Brian Geraghty vs. Matt Wiman
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