Manny Gamburyan 'reborn' with UFC victory

LOS ANGELES — Entering Saturday afternoon with a string of losses and likely to face an uncertain future in the Ultimate Fighting Championship in the event of another, Manny Gamburyan walked into the Staples Center with plenty riding on his shoulders in his featherweight bout against Michihiro Omigawa.

At the end of three hard-fought rounds, the Glendale-trained Gamburyan emerged victorious with a unanimous decision, propelled to victory thanks to his old bread-and-butter grappling skills and his ever-developing striking game.

"It feels amazing," said Gamburyan of the win, which was the second bout of an undercard televised live on Fuel TV ahead of the UFC on FOX 4 card. "It seriously feels like I'm reborn again."

Gamburyan, who won for the first time since April of 2010, notched scorecard tallies of 29-28 twice and 30-27 to improve to 12-7.

With the fight coming down to the third round, Gamburyan garnered the bout's biggest highlight when he landed a right head kick that staggered Omigawa (13-12-1). Gamburyan, who trains at Glendale Fighting Club along with Team Hayastan and SK Golden Boys, went in for the kill and landed two terrific overhand rights.

"The guy didn't even go down and Manny's a good puncher," said Edmond Tarverdyan of the Glendale Fighting Club, Gamburyan's striking coach and lead corner man. "[Omigawa's] got a chin."

Later in the final round, Omigawa fought back and seemed to even stun Gamburyan a bit on the feet and looked to secure a guillotine on a number of occasions, but Gamburyan was able to secure the round with a number of takedowns, including a final punctuating slam in which he deposited Omigawa on his head.

Nonetheless, after having lost his last two bouts via decision after he thought he'd won, Gamburyan still admitted he was apprehensive going to the cards.

"You're always nervous," Gamburyan said. "Even if you dominate."

Omigawa contended he should've got the win, but instead was dealt his second consecutive loss and the fourth setback in his last five fights.

"We knew he was the stronger fighter coming into this, so I trained to avoid the takedown and tried to keep moving. I planned on throwing straight left punches to keep the distance and I think it worked very well," Omigawa said. "I thought I won the first and third rounds, but it's his hometown. I should've gotten the decision."

Indeed, Gamburyan was the fan favorite, as he drew a loud ovation and some added motivation fighting a short drive from his North Hollywood home.

"There was a lot of Armenians, I could see all the flags," Gamburyan said.

In the opening round, there was a long feeling-out process with little action.

"I did not expect him to fight southpaw the whole fight," Gamburyan said. "I was trying to figure him out."

A left hook by Omigawa landed and put Gamburyan on his butt, but Gamburyan popped up and landed a right. Thereafter, both would land solid punches throughout, with Gamburyan the aggressor in forcing a very close round that was given to Omigawa by most, including two of three judges.

In the second round, though, both fighters opened up at the start, winging punches. Gamburyan then took over by landing his first takedown, which he worked for doggedly and finally got by twisting him down. Omigawa, who like Gamburyan comes from a judo background, popped back up. It was a foreshadowing of events to come, as Omigawa routinely worked his way up from Gamburyan takedowns.

"He's a judo guy," Gamburyan said. "He knows what's up."

Still, Gamburyan would land seven takedowns in the bout to none for Omigawa and used them to pile up points, winning the second round by asserting his grappling and, at one point, taking Omigawa's back and working for a rear-naked choke.

In the third, Gamburyan, who further showcased his improved striking by working behind an effective jab, landed the right high kick and followed with the rights. But, just as much as the bout showed off Gamburyan's maturing overall game, it also showed off Omigawa's sturdy chin, as the Japanese fighter took hard shots in every round.

"That guy has a chin, the heart of a lion. … Homeboy doesn't feel anything," Gamburyan said. "I kick hard [but] he's got chin for days."

As Gamburyan's output standing waned later in the round, Omigawa landed some combos that pushed Gamburyan back. Later, Gamburyan landed another big right and then a double-leg and pressed against the cage, leading to the first of four takedowns in the round for Gamburyan, the last two coming via hard slams.

"The first round was close," Tarverdyan said, "but the second and third, we won the fight."

And with the win came many things for Gamburyan: further proof he's improving his all-around game, a sigh of relief after a losing streak ended and reaffirmation that he has made a home for himself inside the UFC's octagon.

"He tried everything today, he put on a good performance," Tarverdyan said. "He put his heart out there. The last two fights people were doubting him.

"I told him, 'Give a good performance. Now you gotta put it together, the old Manny and the new Manny.' [It was a] do-or-die fight. It's time to perform and he did."

Said Gamburyan: "Losing hurts. Winning is everything."

In other action on Fuel TV, featherweight Nam Phan defeated Cole Miller in a tightly contested bout via split decision, winning on two cards, 29-28. Southern California's Phan has trained on occasion at Alberto Crane's Burbank Gracie Barra and was a teammate of Glendale fighters Sevak Magakian and Sako Chivitchian on the 12th season of "The Ultimate Fighter."

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