"At the end of the day we’re all human and whoever is stronger is going to be victorious. I’m in great shape, I’m in a great place and I’ve had my best training camp ever. I’m ready to shock the world.”
Broomfield, Colo. -- He is unbeaten since reinventing himself at 145 pounds. He knocked out a former WEC featherweight champion in his last fight. He is a decorated judo black belt, ridiculously solid as a fire hydrant, and just might be the most powerful featherweight on the planet.
And yet, Manny Gamburyan feels like a lot of people are vastly underestimating his odds to dethrone WEC featherweight champion/knockout artist Jose Aldo. Gamburyan’s underdog perception is likely true and is based on the fact that Aldo has won 10 straight, hasn’t lost in nearly five years, and owns landslide wins over former champs Mike Brown and Urijah Faber. Gamburyan said scoring the upset today in the WEC 51 main event starts with mentality and refusing to be intimidated or buying into the hype.
“Anderson Silva is the hands-down best fighter on the planet, I don’t care what anybody else says. But a lot of people, when they fight Anderson Silva, they give him too much respect and think, ‘Oh my God, Oh my God, it’s Anderson Silva!’” Gamburyan said. “If you think that way you can never win. At the end of the day we’re all human and whoever is stronger is going to be victorious. I’m in great shape, I’m in a great place and I’ve had my best training camp ever. I’m ready to shock the world.”
The southern Californian certainly has his work cut out for him. To date, no one in the WEC has exposed any chinks in the 24-year-old Brazilian’s armor or remotely endangered him. Though he holds a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Andre Pederneiras – one of the most renowned jiu-jitsu and MMA coaches around – Aldo’s modus operandi is to exercise stout takedown defense and overwhelm foes with blazing fast kicks, knees and punches. The only fighter with which to compare him is fellow countryman Anderson Silva, though Aldo’s takedown defense and jiu-jitsu just might be superior to the UFC middleweight champion’s. Given Aldo’s dominance, it’s up to Gamburyan and his coaches to try and solve the puzzle.
“Do you see holes in his game?” Canadian Press reporter Neil Davidson asked Gamburyan during a recent conference call.
“He probably has some holes in his game,” Gamburyan responded. “We’re working on it and hopefully it’s going to work out.”
If nothing else, the 5’5” “Pitbull,” has definitely paid his dues for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The Armenia native has been fighting professionally since 1999 and spent most of his career at 155 pounds battling opponents who naturally outweighed him by 25 pounds or more by the time they stepped into the ring. A veteran of the Ultimate Fighter season 5 reality TV show, Gamburyan made it to the finals before losing to Nate Diaz. He went 2-2 during his other UFC fights and, after much deliberation, finally decided to drop a weight class to his normal weight.
“That was the best move I've ever made in my life,” Gamburyan said. “So far so good, and here I am fighting for the belt.”
The 29-year-old’s road to the title shot saw him stop Mike Thomas Brown in the first round, smother Leonard Garcia for three rounds en route to a unanimous decision victory, and triumph over unbeaten prospect John Franchi.
Aldo (17-1) offered his expectations for the matchup and his impressions of the challenger.
“Manny should be aggressive because I’m going to come in just as aggressive and it’s going to be a great fight for the fans to watch, two very aggressive guys going at it,” Aldo said in Portuguese through a translator. “Manny’s wrestling, his judo, and his heavy hands are what I’ve got to watch out for the whole fight.”
Aldo also addressed a possible X factor in the bout, the Mile High altitude.
“I just got to Denver (11 days early) to get acclimated to the altitude,” the champ said. “I’ve never fought in high altitude, but I’m confident I’m going to feel good. My training went great. I feel that I did everything I had to do in training in Brazil.”
Gamburyan, meanwhile, said winning the belt would have special meaning. As a teenager his dream was to someday be a judo Olympian. That goal went unfulfilled, yet he views Thursday’s title bout as a chance to bring closure to the mission.
“Right now I consider myself fighting for an Olympic gold medal, but it’s like I’m a facing a great judo guy from Brazil,” he said. “In my last fight I fought a former WEC champion, a great fighter, and I stepped my game up and knocked him out. I’m probably going to do the same thing to Jose Aldo … Anybody can be stopped. I think he’s a great fighter and I respect him as a champion, but I fight to destroy. It’s my time, man. I’ve got to shine.”