It wasn't all that long ago that Manny Gamburyan felt he was fighting for his job with the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Having halted a three-fight losing skid and emerged with a current two-bout winning streak, the Glendale-trained grappler now faces a top-10 opponent as he looks to end 2013 on a winning note with a high-profile victory.
"I'm very excited," said Gamburyan on Saturday at the Glendale Fighting Club, a week ahead of his three-round Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight (145 pounds) bout with Dennis Siver as part of UFC 168 in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand. "I finished my camp really good; feeling healthy, feeling strong. I'm done with my homework. I just gotta go out there, show what I can do, get the 'W.'"
Standing in the way of Gamburyan (13-7) getting the 'W' and adding to his winning streak is Siver (21-9), who boasts a stellar kickboxing game and the No. 7 ranking in the latest UFC featherweight rankings.
"Manny is an extremely dangerous, experienced fighter," Siver told UFC.com. "His stocky build presents issues and he is a threat both standing and on the mat. This will be one of the most intense fights of my career."
Siver, 34, is coming off a third-round technical-knockout loss to Cub Swanson in July, but had previously won two straight and six of seven. Though highly regarded for his stand-up game, which features a devastating spinning back kick, Siver has won nine bouts by submission and five via knockout.
Gamburyan owns two knockout wins and six by submission, as his judo background and grappling game has long been a strength, though his striking has improved greatly over the last few years, particularly under the tutelage of Edmond Tarverdyan, the Glendale Fighting Club head coach.
"I'm being honest, I've worked a lot on my stand-up game," Gamburyan, 32, said, "but every fight I've fought, I've had an advantage on the ground."
Tarverdyan is confident Gamburyan can compete standing, but believes the bout will come down to who showcases their skills best on Saturday night.
"It's a fight that, who's trained better, who shows up to fight best is going to win," said Tarverdyan, a former muay Thai kickboxing champion who believes Gamburyan has been well-prepared to see the caliber of striking Siver will present. "We're ready for that. I gave Manny what he needs to be ready. It's nothing that he hasn't seen in the gym."
Gamburyan has always possessed a strong right hand and a willingness to engage, but his technical skills and cerebral game have improved he believes.
"The old Manny was good, but he wasn't technically strong, he was a brawler," Gamburyan said. "Now, I can still brawl, but I'm more technical. … I'm a better mixed-martial artist.
"I expect a lot of things from [Siver] and he should expect a lot of things from me."
While taking the fight to the mat would seem to be the most advantageous choice for Gamburyan, he and his camp believe a win can be had wherever the fight is fought.
"I think if Manny tags him, it's gonna be a short night – same with Siver. They're both big punchers, but you can't just go in there trying to knock him out with one punch. Speed, intelligence and experience, that's what we've been working on with Manny," Tarverdyan said. "Even if it is a striking match, I still believe [Gamburyan] could get the best of it."
The two have a pair of common UFC opponents in Diego Nunes and Nate Mohr. Both dispatched Mohr – Gamburyan via first-round submission and Siver via third-round technical knockout. However, while Siver defeated Nunes by unanimous decision, Nunes bested Gamburyan via unanimous verdict, though the decision was disputed by the North Hollywood-based Gamburyan.
Siver owns wins over UFC mainstays such as Nam Phan, Matt Wiman and Spencer Fisher, while Gamburyan's biggest victories have come against the likes of Leonard Garcia and Mike Thomas Brown, which earned him a title shot at then-World Extreme Cagefighting champion Jose Aldo (who is now the UFC featherweight champion).
"He steps up to competition," Tarverdyan said of Gamburyan, "and I like that about him."
Thus, a shot at Siver presents a shot for Gamburyan at getting back into the top 10 possibly. But motivation is never lacking for him.
"Every fight motivates me," said Gamburyan, who's set to be cornered by Tarverdyan, George Bastmajyan and Andy Dermenjian. "As long as I'm fighting, I get motivated, I get excited.
"Fighting's the fun part."
The card is headlined by a UFC middleweight title rematch between Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva, while UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, a longtime friend of Gamburyan and fellow GFC trainee, defends her title against Miesha Tate in the co-main event on pay-per-view. Gamburyan and Siver will be the fourth fight of the night, which will air as part of the preliminaries on Fox Sports 1, beginning at 5 p.m.
"It's gonna be a beautiful night," Gamburyan said. "Get that 'W' and have a great New Year."
Follow Grant Gordon on Twitter: @TCNGrantGordon