Edson Barboza spent months hounding UFC matchmaker Joe Silva and the powers that be to give him an opportunity to face a top 10 ranked fighter so he could prove he belongs among the best lightweights in the world.
Finally in April he got his wish — a showdown on a card airing on FOX against Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone. The matchup was favorable for Barboza given Cerrone’s tendencies to stand and trade with opponents, which played right into the Brazilian’s striking background.
When the fight started it appeared as if everything Barboza predicted was coming true. He cracked Cerrone with a few hard kicks and it looked as if the Brazilian was on his way to a knockout or TKO over a highly touted and ranked opponent in the UFC.
Then it all went wrong.
It’s hard because my friends, my training partners, my coaches said ‘oh you fought really well, you were looking great’ but I lost.
— Edson Barboza
Cerrone caught Barboza flush with a straight jab that left him rattled and reeling towards the mat. Cerrone wasted no time to jump to the ground, lock on his legs, arms and work for a rear naked choke. Seconds later Barboza’s dream of proving he could beat a top 10 fighter dissipated like a cloud of vapor and no matter how well he did in the early going, the end result was still a loss. No amount of encouragement afterwards was going to make him feel better about what just happened.
"It’s hard because my friends, my training partners, my coaches said ‘oh you fought really well, you were looking great’ but I lost," Barboza told FOX Sports.
To compound matters, Barboza was accused after the loss of suddenly having a weak chin. What kind of UFC fighter gets clipped with a jab and knocked for a loop?
Barboza is quick to answer that charge with an explanation on why he got caught with the jab in the first place. Any punch can knock an opponent down if it’s one they don’t see coming, and while he takes nothing away from Cerrone’s power, the jab got past Barboza’s defense because it’s not something he’s used to seeing.
That may sound like a strange statement — it is after all a straight punch coming right down the middle. But Barboza explains that coming from his Muay Thai roots, he’s ready for a lot of strikes to happen during a fight â head kicks, leg kicks, knees, elbows, hooks, etc, but one area where he was woefully unprepared was simple boxing defense.
"I put my focus on this fight and I’m sparring three times a week. A lot of hard boxing sparring and I came from Muay Thai. I don’t use my hands a lot in Muay Thai," Barboza explained. "For this camp, I worked my boxing a lot. I feel really, really comfortable with my hands. My fight with Cowboy Cerrone helped me a lot for this fight because I focused a lot on my hands. You’re going to see a different Edson Barboza in the cage."
Barboza knows until he eats a punch or two that the criticism will still come his way, but the best way to fend off detractors is to never give them anything to chatter about.
So as he approaches his co-main event fight with Evan Dunham on Wednesday night in Atlantic City, Barboza is gunning for a knockout of the most vicious variety. The best way to silence the critics is to give them something else to talk about, and Barboza is very adept at doing just that inside the Octagon.
"It will be a great fight and I hope it’s ‘Fight of the Night’ because I’m ready for war," Barboza said. "One thing I know if he gives me the chance to finish the fight, I’m going to finish the fight. That’s it.
"When he gives me the opportunity, the fight is over 100-percent."