Roughly six years ago, Manny Gamburyan and Cole Miller were teammates on “The Ultimate Fighter,” helping to usher a revitalized lightweight division into the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Looked back upon as a season full of crazy highlights and talented fighters, the fifth season of the reality show berthed the UFC careers of Gamburyan, who trains at the Glendale Fighting Club, as well as Miller.
Now, the two find themselves as opponents who will toe the line Saturday in a three-round featherweight bout as part of UFC Fight Night 26 — Shogun vs. Sonnen at the TD Garden in Boston.
“Kind of excited to fight this guy,” said Gamburyan, whose fight will be the third of the card and streamed live on Facebook, which begins at 1:35 p.m. PST. “He was on my team, we trained together.
“We slept in the same house for six weeks.”
But neither Gamburyan (12-7) or Miller (19-7), who were coached by Jens Pulver on the show, is selling the fight as a matchup between two close friends, as both are more than happy to throw hands with their former cast mate.
“I’m friendly and cordial with Manny,” Miller said. “We talk and we fraternize when we see each other, but it’s not like I call him on Christmas.
“We were teammates, I like the guy, but this is one of those sports where you have to fight guys you like.”
Added Gamburyan: “It’s not like I’m best friends with the guy. He’s just one of the guys in front of me.”
It’s an attitude and mindset that Gamburyan’s trainer and corner man, Edmond Tarverdyan of GFC, likes to see from his fighter.
“I like Manny's attitude, he has that mentality of, ‘[Expletive deleted] you! We’re fighting,’” Tarverdyan said. “He’s been doing this a long time, he’s knows he’s not going there to make friends.”
“The Ultimate Fighter 5,” headlined by coaches Pulver and BJ Penn, included current UFC talents Gray Maynard, Nate Diaz, Joe Lauzon and Matt Wiman. Gamburyan advanced to the finals, where he lost to Diaz after he dislocated his shoulder. But despite training and living together, Gamburyan, 32, and Miller, 29, realize that was 2007 and both have developed their games while dropping from lightweight (155 pounds) to featherweight (145).
“None of that matters, that was 2007,” Miller said. “We both have an idea of what the other brings.”
Both bring confidence no matter where the fight goes.
Miller’s stand-up is that of a more precise striker, but his jiu jitsu is his bread and butter. Fourteen of his victories have come via submission with three knockout stoppages to boot.
Gamburyan possesses a phenomenal judo background and much of his career success has come on the ground, but the power in his striking has also become a dangerous weapon. His right hand notched him arguably the biggest victory of his career when he knocked out former World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight champ Mike Thomas Brown in April of 2010.
“He’s got a strong grappling background and throws heavy, heavy hands,” Miller said. “He’s pretty well-rounded.”
Going in, Miller has displayed the more technical and precise striking, but Tarverdyan said that very much could be different come bell time.
“I’ve been working with him a lot,” said Tarverdyan, a former champion kickboxer who said his sparring with Gamburyan has been an example of marked improvement for the latter. “He’s getting good rounds with me, I’m impressed with him.
“He’s looking like a precise striker, too.”
The most striking aspect of the fight, however, is likely how much Gamburyan and Miller are polar physical opposites. Gamburyan, at 5-foot-5, is built like a tank, while at 6-foot-1, the wiry Miller is one of the tallest fighters in the weight class.
Whether on the feet or on the ground, the dimensions could add an interesting element.
“That’s just one of those things I’m gonna have to work around,” Miller said.
Miller’s last fight was a submission win over the durable Bart Palaszewski on April 13. The first-round submission win broke a two-fight losing skid for Miller and might very well have saved his spot on the UFC roster.
Gamburyan broke a two-fight UFC skid and overall three-fight streak with his Aug. 4, 2012 decision win over Michihiro Omigawa.
Thus, while there are no certainties, both could be fighting for a roster spot.
“I kinda feel like I’m still fighting for my job a little bit,” Miller said. “I think that’s why they matched us up together like they did because we’re both 1-2 in our last three fights.”
Gamburyan’s layoff has seen his share of canceled fights due to injuries, most notably a broken thumb and fractured elbow.
Gamburyan, who will be cornered by Tarverdyan and UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, said he’s healthy now and, after the layoff, more than anxious for a fight.
“I feel 100% healthy,” Gamburyan said Wednesday night. “I wish the fight was tomorrow. Training’s not fun for me any more. I want to fight, I’m big-time excited.”
The main card, headlined by a light heavyweight main event between Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Chael Sonnen, will serve as the UFC’s debut on the brand-new Fox Sports 1 channel. On Sept. 4, the latest season of “The Ultimate Fighter” will debut on the station, featuring first-ever female coaches Rousey and Miesha Tate furthering their bitter rivalry as opposing coaches. Gamburyan was an assistant on Rousey’s team. Filming concluded the first week of July, but Gamburyan said he was still training during the taping of the show.
Thus, fully trained, healthy and anxious, Gamburyan is heading to the octagon brimming with confidence.
“I see this fight going everything in my way,” he said. “I’ve got better takedowns, I’ve got heavy hands. I’m cool with this fight wherever it goes.
“I have my own game plan. I’m not worried about what he’s gonna do.”Copyright © 2015, CT Now