Bad blood will spill over into the octagon tonight, as featherweights Manny Gamburyan and Diego Nunes look to settle an old score in the first bout of the Ultimate Fighting Championship's UFC 141: Lesnar vs. Overeem.
Headlined by a blockbuster heavyweight bout between Brock Lesnar and Allistair Overeem in the main event of the pay-per-view card emanating from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the night will conclude with the two mastodons weighing in at more than 500 combined pounds and lead off with two 145-pounders in the Glendale-trained Gamburyan and Nunes.
"All my fights are big for me, I don't take anyone lightly," Gamburyan said on Thursday night, not long after the UFC weigh-ins. "Diego Nunes is a legit fighter, I have to take him very seriously.
"I'm pumped, I just can't wait to face him."
As the story goes, during an autograph appearance ahead of Gamburyan's Sept. 2010 bout with Jose Aldo, Nunes, signing a promotional poster with Gamburyan's image emblazoned upon it, signed his name across Gamburyan's face — an unwritten no-no. Gamburyan, who trains at the Glendale Fighting Club, took immediate umbrage and has asked for the fight ever since.
"It's not like I don't like him, he just disrespected me," Gamburyan said. "It motivated me."
Though Nunes has said in past interviews that he was distracted during the signing and meant no disrespect, he has welcomed Gamburyan's challenge and has followed it with harsh words.
"Manny, come fight me," Nunes said in a recent ufc.com interview. "You said you wanted to fight me, so now come on. I will knock you out like you've never been knocked out before."
Adding to the intrigue and stipulation of the match for Gamburyan is that the former "The Ultimate Fighter" finalist enters it on a two-fight losing skid with a third loss perhaps likely to bring upon his UFC release.
"I need a 'W' and a 'W' only to [stay] in the UFC," Gamburyan said.
The 30-year-old Gamburyan's career record stands at 11-6 after consecutive losses to Tyson Griffin at UFC Live 4 on June 26 in a close majority decision and on Sept. 30, 2010, when he was knocked out by Aldo in a World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight title bout.
Aldo, the current UFC featherweight titlist after the company absorbed the WEC, is the undisputed division kingpin and also the training partner of Nunes.
"And I'm second. I'm No. 2 in the world," Nunes said in the ufc.com interview.
There aren't any MMA websites or ranking systems with Nunes (16-2) holding the No. 2 spot, but he is in most top 10s for the division and is the Las Vegas betting favorite.
Nonetheless, Nunes, 29, is coming off a loss via unanimous decision on July 11 to Kenny Florian at UFC 131 in the most high-profile bout of Nunes' 18-fight career that's seen him notch five wins via knockout, six by submission and five on decisions. His only two losses have been decisions, while Gamburyan's settled three of his wins by decision and notched two knockouts and six submissions. He's been stopped three times — two via KO and one via submission.
"It's a perfect match for my game. This will be my holiday celebration. I want this win to start off 2012 well. And to beat Manny will be only joy," Nunes said in the UFC interview. "I'm very focused, determined, with blood in my eyes. I only see him in front of me. I go to sleep and I wake up thinking of him. I'm training harder than ever. I'm aiming for the knockout. I'm aiming at his chin. No matter where this fight goes, I'll finish him, either by knockout or by submission. This will be a battle and this victory will be mine."
Gamburyan realizes his opponent's strengths, particularly his striking game, but is confident that Nunes will have plenty to contend with also.
"I know he kicks a lot — high and low — he punches different, spinning backfists and all that, I have to be ready for all that. I trained hard with a lot of different guys," said Gamburyan, who will be cornered by GFC's Edmond Tarverdyan and George Bastrmajyan, as well as SK Golden Boys' Martin Berberyan, a three-time Olympic wrestler. "We'll see if he can handle my wrestling, my judo and my ground game."
Originally slated to settle their difference on Sept. 24 in Denver at UFC 135, Gamburyan was forced to withdraw with a shoulder injury. Nunes followed suit, deciding to wait for a Gamburyan bout after he incurred tendinitis in his left arm coupled with some personal problems.
But nothing's holding them back now.
"I feel good, I can't wait," said Gamburyan, whose bout will be streamed live on Facebook when the preliminary portion of the event begins at 3:50 p.m. "I'm very excited."