|Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Former training partners in New Jersey, re-run their 2015 classic.
Simply put, Edson Barboza is one of the most feared and skilled kickers the Octagon has ever seen in it’s almost twenty-six-year history, right up there with the likes of Pedro Rizzo, Mirko Cro Cop and ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson. The Muay Thai practitioner returns this weekend in the co-main event slot of UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi, in a rematch with surging contender Paul ‘The Irish Dragon’ Felder. The Brazilian makes the walk for the twenty-second time on Saturday evening, against not only a familiar opponent but a former sparring partner.
After their three-round clash in 2015, Felder joined Barboza at Ricardo Almeida BJJ in New Jersey, under the tutelage of Mark Henry. Since then, both men have split, with Barboza reverting to American Top Team with Anderson Franca, and Felder to Milkauwee’s Roufusport with Duke Roufus.
Barboza, who currently occupies the #7 rank in a talent stacked lightweight division, suffered a brutal one-punch knockout at the heavy hands of Justin Gaethje in March. To prevent a two-fight skid, the Nova Friburgo striker must bring a crashing halt to Felder’s four-fight rise. The only man in the promotion’s history to register two-leg kick stoppages during his almost ten-year stint has one of the most compelling highlight reels to boot. Below, join me as I recap the exciting career of Edson Barboza.
Unlike many of his compatriots, Edson Barboza actually made his first foray into professional mixed-martial-arts in the United States. Arriving from Rio de Janeiro to ‘The Sunshine State’ before the turn of the decade, Barboza immediately blitzed the opposition, with his explosive Muay Thai background. Before his move to the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2010, Barboza had already earned two professional world championships. Finishing all six of his opponents, the Brazilian secured both the Renassaince MMA and Ring of Combat 155 pound straps. Since his return to Florida, Barboza has scored an even 1-1 record, brutally beating Dan Hooker for three rounds before the aforementioned defeat to Gaethje.
A Different Kind Of Striker:
Upon his Octagon debut in the winter of 2010, it was clearly apparent, that Edson Barboza was a distinct class apart than his lightweight peers in terms of natural striking ability; Lightening fast, explosive, technically proficient, dynamic and utterly debilitating. Paired with fellow promotional newcomer Mike Lullo, Barboza scored the second leg kick stoppage of his still naive career, and in doing so, the first in the promotion’s antiquity. The following year, Edson added two more wins to his record, with decision triumphs over Anthony Njokuani and Ross Pearson.
Returning to his native Brazil for the second time under the UFC banner, Barboza was paired with Liverpudlian Terry Etim at UFC 142. In a tense and somewhat tentative three-round affair, Barboza once more landed a shot for the history books. Midway through the final round, off the end of a combination and outside leg kick, Barboza reset and spun with a breathtaking wheel kick, collapsing Etim to the canvas with a thud. Immediately dropping to his knees, Barboza signaled to the heavens as the Rio crowd gazed.
Off the back of the Knockout of the Night triumph over Etim, Barboza had gained a substantial head of steam at lightweight. Matched with Jamie Varner ahead of the Arizona native’s second Octagon stint, Barboza suffered his first professional defeat. Pinning Barboza to the fence in an opening-round flurry, Varner landed flush with a late right hand which dropped the Brazilian, before following up with ground and pound. Barboza returned home and returned to the win column in his next bout, stopping Lucas Martins in the opening round via strikes and then against compatriot Rafaello Oliveira, added a third leg kick finish of his career. An end of year meeting with Team Alpha MMA’s Danny Castillo earned the pair Fight of the Night accolades, in a three-round unanimous decision for the Brazilian.
Perrenial lightweight contender Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone met Barboza next in a dream kickboxing matchup. Displaying his often underrated grappling chaps to find the finish, Cerrone dropped Barboza with a stiff jab and immediately took his back. Securing both hooks, Cerrone then forced the tap via a rear-naked choke. A three-fight win streak had been snapped in the blink of an eye.
The Upper Echelon:
Over the next three years, Barboza established a hugely admirable 6-2 record in the promotion. A quick turn around against Evan Dunham. at the second time of asking, resulted in a vicious switch kick body knockout for the Brazilian. The steely Bobby Green was also dispatched, this time with a unanimous decision, before a third defeat, in the form of brisk puncher Michael Johnson. A mix of Johnson’s early pressure and a more boxing based offense from Barboza saw him fall behind on the scorecards, without space to really get off his often fighting ending kicking techniques.
Barboza’s initial scrap with Paul Felder proved to be a major learning curve for ‘The Irish Dragon’, as the Pennslyvania native dropped his first professional loss. In an almost Muay Thai match for three rounds, Barboza consistently zoned in on the body of Felder with both spinning back kicks and switch kicks, to outpoint his future training partner, and secure the victory. In a hugely entertaining matchup with one time Interim lightweight best Tony ‘El Cucuy’ Ferguson, Barboza once more struggled with the constant pressure and pace, something which has become part of a blueprint in order to best the Brazilian. Despite eating an illegal up-kick in the opening round, Barboza displayed some high-level counter boxing but suffered a blinding cut via the always present Ferguson elbows. During a bloodied second round scramble, Ferguson sprawled and jumped onto a front headlock. With Barboza trying to pry the hands apart, 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu black belt Ferguson sunk in a patented D’arce, forcing the stoppage.
Another three-fight win streak and arguably the most impressive of his career followed for Barboza, as he secured shut-out decision wins over former world champions Gilbert Melendez and Anthony ‘Showtime’ Pettis. His latest in highlight-reel finishes came in a hometown clash with wily grappler Beneil Dariush in 2017. Struggling once more with the wrestling of Dariush, Barboza timed the shot from the Iranian beautifully, launching a flying knee after circling away from an exchange. Barboza had entered title contention.
The Dagestani Destroyer:
When we study Barboza’s career and in particular his losses, it’s apparent that Barboza struggles hugely with wrestlers. The limited space provided by an aggressive opponent halts the Brazilian’s kicking setup and ability to time those techniques, a fault sure to be exploited when pitted with current lightweight best and one half of UFC 242’s headliner, Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Ahead of the 2017 title eliminator, Barboza was the consensus stiffest opponent Khabib had faced in his Octagon run. A crisp counter boxer and kicker with many, many tools in which to separate an opponent from consciousness. Khabib would be facing the same threat of a flying knee which flattened Beniel Dariush if he shot from range. Come fight night, Nurmagomedov exacted an expertly applied gameplan. Forcing Barboza to fight off the back foot, and more importantly the cage, Khabib shot with reckless abandonment at times, but over the fifteen-minute period, landed four takedowns, blitzing Barboza’s previous record of 86% successful takedown defense. It was noticeable in Barboza’s eyes the sheer mountain he would have to climb in order to prevent the inevitably mauling. Khabib triangled the legs, utilized chin position, and bruised with heavy ground and pound. Simply put, Barboza had been mauled.
The 33-year-old was thrown to a surging wrestler once again in his next pairing, in the form of now welterweight hopeful Kevin Lee in their five-round headliner. Despite wobbling Lee with a wheel kick in the fourth round, Barboza suffered a nasty cut to his right eyebrow, obscuring his vision, forcing Keith Peterson to call for a doctor’s stoppage.
Return To The South:
Kiwi Dan ‘Hangman’ Hooker was building up quite an impressive run in the lightweight division upon his callup to face Edson Barboza, a run that was brutally stopped over a three-round beatdown. With a flurry of body kicks and hooks over almost fifteen minutes, Barboza eventually folded Hooker with a sinking left body hook to return to winning ways.
Fellow leg kicking ace Justin ‘The Highlight’ Gaethje was next for Barboza, as both men closed the UFC Fight Night Philidelphia card in March. It was a showcase of calf kicks early for both as they exchanged digging shots early before Gaethje wobbled Barboza with a right hook upstairs. Having difficulty with his right eye from an apparent outstretched hand eye poke from Gaethje, Barboza gathered his wits in the clinch. Another flaw in Barboza’s often supreme standup game is his one-dimensional, generally naive striking defense and exit from an exchange. Barboza has an unwanted habit of circling usually to his left with his hands down, leaving himself wide open to counter right hooks, a shot Gaethje put him out cold with.