"I was kind of shocked, actually. I woke up in the morning and made a few phone calls to try to see what was going on."
Manny Gamburyan — like many of the WEC's stable of talented fighters — awoke yesterday to news that rocked the MMA landscape. The sudden announcement of the UFC's absorption of the WEC came as a surprise to many so-called "MMA insiders," but I wondered if the same were true for the men who actually fill out W-2's for the world's premier organization. Were the fighters, managers, agents or even 'Turtles' of the MMA world kept up to speed on the latest happenings? Shockingly, no.
"It was a total surprise, but it's a great opportunity for us to be fighting on the world's biggest stage. Everything is bigger in the UFC. It's much better for us to be fighting there."
I don't think anyone would dispute that claim. I know some may reflect fondly on fighting on Boise State's red-headed stepchild of a mat, but this is undoubtedly a move in the right direction for fighters competing at lower weight classes.
But does being back in the UFC fold tempt featherweights back to thoughts of the buffet — and with them — lightweight glory? Gamburyan doesn't think so.
"155 is way too big for me. Right now, I'm about 162. I could fight at lightweight if I wanted, but I prefer not to."
The man has come a long way from taking fights with guys like Jorge Santiago, someone who makes a living fighting as a middleweight in organizations such as the UFC, Strikeforce and Sengoku. Manny won by knock out, in case you were wondering.
"I've always enjoyed challenging myself. Whether it's been wrestling, Judo or sparring, I want the best guy regardless of weight. 145 is my natural weight class. I might even be able to make 135 but I wouldn't be able to fight."
While most fighters who take the plunge into the horrifying world of castor oil and sauna suits seem to lose a bit of their in-cage pluckiness, Gamburyan says it hasn't mirrored his own experiences.
"To be honest, I haven't lost anything performance-wise. The only thing, maybe, is not being able to eat steak before the weigh-ins. Retaining my No. 2 world ranking is very important to me. I only fight at 145 for one reason, and that's to win the belt. [Aldo] is an amazing fighter. He has all the tools to be a great champion. I just want to train with the best and learn as much as I can. Hopefully I can get the win next time and be back on my way to fighting for the title."
I think one of the biggest questions moving forward in this merger is how the WEC's lightweights will fare with the UFC's top performers, let alone its unexceptional. Will the swing in talent allow for enough of an easy transition?
"Yes, most definitely. We have guys like Donald Cerrone, Benson Henderson and Jamie Varner. A lot of great fighters so it's going to be a great fit for the UFC. So many great matchups. It's going to be amazing."
Something tells me not everyone is going to be as enthused. Personally, if I had tooth and clawed my way into the UFC's lightweight division, only to hear that others are now being naturalized, I just might be a tad miffed. Will the smell of fresh meat bring out some grudges?
"All the main guys I mentioned? They all deserve to be fighting in the UFC. They won't have any problem. Some of them have been champions so they know what it takes. It's going to be sick."
Another interesting externality swirling around this move may be the ebb and flow of the featherweight division. Now — without fear of lost income and exposure of not fighting in the UFC — will any of the 'lighter' lightweights make the move down in weight?
"It's up to those guys if they want to try it, but it's not an easy cut. Making the weight is one thing. Being able to fight is another. I only see Frankie Edgar being able to do it."
What? No Kenny Florian?
"He can, but I don't think he'd be able to fight. I love Kenny, he's a great fighter, but he won't feel comfortable at that weight."
"It's a challenge. I never thought I could make 155 and I did. Never thought I could make 145 and did. Never say never, but it's a tough cut. It doesn't matter if you can make the weight. Can you fight the next day? That's the problem."
With the UFC's lightweight division being as scrappy as it is, or was pre-merger, things aren't likely to get any easier for anyone trying to break in, or even stay employed. I have a feeling the UFC will be even less hesitant to dole out pink slips to underperforming lightweights.
"I just think this is a great opportunity for everyone. It's a chance to be a part of the best organization. There's nothing like the feeling of fighting in the UFC. From the cage to the audience, it's just different."