Just when it appeared all was lost for Manny Gamburyan, he squeezed out a dramatic, comeback victory.
Very much looking to resurrect his career in a new weight class, the Glendale Fighting Club-trained Gamburyan resurrected triumph when he survived a devastating right hand and subsequent onslaught from Cody Gibson before securing a guillotine choke submission with just four seconds remaining in the second round Saturday night at UFC 178 in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand.
"Man, I got a good guillotine, but Gibson's a tough guy," said Gamburyan in his post-fight in-cage interview. "He was trying to escape, but I had it really deep. It was just an amazing guillotine."
In the aftermath of his win against Gibson (12-5), Gamburyan (14-8) wasted no time in making his intentions for his next bout known.
Gamburyan called over longtime friend and training partner Ronda Rousey, the UFC women's bantamweight champion who also trains at GFC, and then called out Bryan Caraway.
Caraway is a 135-pound fighter, the longtime boyfriend of Rousey-rival Miesha Tate and once infamously tweeted he would knock Rousey's "teeth down her throat." Caraway subsequently apologized, but it's hardly quelled any rivalry.
"[The 135-pound division] should be my home for a long time. There's a reason I'm here at 135. … Bryan Caraway, where you at?" bellowed Gamburyan into the camera as he put his arm around Rousey, who was in the cage to congratulate him. "Win or lose, I want Bryan Caraway. … Don't be scared homie!"
Airing on UFC Fight Pass as the first bout of the card, there were subplots aplenty, as Gamburyan, sporting a new goatee and looking to be in the best shape of his life for his debut in the men's bantamweight (135 pounds) division, exemplified the same durability that has long been a trademark.
He endured a stifling low blow in the second round that looked as though it would possibly end the fight and then subsequently was floored by a Gibson right. Gamburyan endured and eventually sat down on a guillotine that coaxed a tapout at the 4:56 mark of the second round.
"It was a very tough fight as I expected it to be," Gamburyan told the UFC backstage. "He's a great brawler and a decent wrestler so I didn't take him lightly and I was very well prepared to go a full three hard rounds.
"When he hit me with the low blow, I wasn't fully recovered, but I kept fighting through it. My stomach was burning really badly and I was trying to get back to 100 percent. He defended the choke very well, but I just pulled as hard as I could and luckily I got the finish."
Gamburyan snapped a two-fight winless streak in which he was coming off a loss and a no-contest and became the fifth competitor in UFC history to earn a win in three weight classes. He had previously fought at lightweight (155 pounds) and featherweight (145). Outside of the UFC, he has also fought at the 170-pound welterweight limit.
"I should have been in this weight class a long time ago and this is definitely where I belong," Gamburyan, who was cornered by GFC's Edmond Tarverdyan along with George Bastrmajyan and Andy Dermenjian, told the UFC.
It was also the first finish for Gamburyan since he knocked out Mike Thomas Brown at WEC 48 in April 24, 2010 in what was arguably the biggest win of his career. Seven fights passed before Gamburyan got his latest finish.
But it was an arduous battle for Gamburyan to get to the finish.
The 33-year-old Gamburyan, who at 5-foot-5 was five inches shorter and six years older than his opponent, took the center of the octagon at the onset as Gibson tried to work his jab and keep his range on the outside.
Gamburyan waded in and missed on a takedown and then ate a left hook from Gibson. Gibson began finding his range well, looking more technical, while Gamburyan was throwing heavy.
With just more than three minutes to go in the first, Gibson got a brief takedown before Gamburyan worked his way to the feet and Gibson clinched up against the cage. Gamburyan landed a right knee, but it was to the groin of Gibson and brought about a brief stop to the action.
As action resumed, Gamburyan's left eye saw a mouse growing quickly underneath it. Gibson continued to work his jab and win the stand-up battle that was mostly punches, though both landed their share of leg kicks.
A stinging right hand stunned Gamburyan and seconds later, Gibson landed two more good rights against the cage and a pair of knees, but Gamburyan secured a takedown off the second knee.
Gamburyan was unable to do much damage and Gibson eventually worked his way up and landed some solid elbows from the clinch as the round concluded with Gibson notching 10-9 scores on all three judges' cards.
In the second round, Gamburyan came out firing and threw a hard right that was partially blocked, but forced Gibson back against the cage. Gamburyan threw wildly as Gibson covered up, but Gibson returned fire and as Gamburyan backed off, Gibson hit his opponent with a low left kick that caught Gamburyan square in the groin and hurt him badly.
With a grimace, Gamburyan soldiered on, but almost immediately off the restart, Gibson connected on a huge overhand right that floored Gamburyan. Gibson followed and Gamburyan desperately tried for a takedown, but couldn't get it.
Gamburyan fired back with an uppercut, but it only briefly halted the onslaught of Gibson, who got control of Gamburyan on the ground with a front headlock and poured on some body shots.
Gamburyan worked free, with his left eye badly swollen and bloodied. Gibson later landed solidly again with a one-two combo. The two clinched against the cage after Gibson slipped to the canvas, but he was in control with Gamburyan's back against the cage.
Gamburyan turned the tables and landed a single leg to get Gibson on his back.
Gamburyan stayed heavy on top and landed some sporadic shoulder shots, but Gibson kept working up. However, it allowed Gamburyan to go for a guillotine and Gamburyan sat back on it, cranked back on the choke and got the tapout for the victory.
Gamburyan popped up, threw his arms in the air and jumped atop the cage, straddling it and raising his arms in triumph. And, of course, not long after, he had his sights set on Caraway, who is ranked ninth in the UFC division rankings and is set to fight No. 3 Raphael Assuncao on Oct. 3 in Nova Scotia.
"Bryan Caraway has avoided so many fights at this point," Gamburyan told the UFC. "He can't escape me this time; win, lose, or draw in his next fight I want him. I respect him as a fighter, but Miesha has more guts than him. She fought the best in the world twice."