Tag: Edson Barboza

UFC 219: Overlooking Edson Barboza feels like a mistake

UFC 219: Overlooking Edson Barboza feels like a mistake

Khabib Nurmagomedov is a terrific fighter.

The undefeated Dagestani lightweight has been hovering around the top of the division for years and is universally regarded as a potential champion. Truth be told, if not for a series of injuries and a weight cut gone sideways back in March, the 29-year-old standout might already have UFC gold wrapped around his waist.

Likeable and talented, Nurmagomedov is a critical darling with the potential to be a crossover star in North America and an international superstar given his growing popularity around the globe and superstar status in Russia. It feels like it is only a matter of time before he reaches his full potential both inside and outside of the cage.

But it has felt that way for well over three years now and it still hasn’t happened and while most seem to view his matchup this weekend with Edson Barboza as a formality – the next step in Nurmagomedov’s journey to fighting for the lightweight title – I can’t help but feel like the Brazilian is being overlooked at a time when his skills are at an all-time high and all the pressure is on his opponent.

Barboza is 13-4 in the UFC and riding a three-fight winning streak. He’s ranked No. 3 in the deepest, most talented division in the sport and coming off arguably the best knockout of the year – a second-round flying knee finish of Beneil Dariush in March that illustrates how “blink and you missed it” dangerous the 31-year-old contender is at all times.

After coming up short in high profile matchups with Donald Cerrone, Michael Johnson and Tony Ferguson earlier in his career, Barboza stopped shuttling to New Jersey from his home in Florida for his training camps and convinced his wife to move to the Garden State permanently following his loss to Ferguson in December 2015.

He hasn’t lost since, earning unanimous decision victories over former champions Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez prior to turning out Dariush’s lights in Forteleza, Brazil earlier this year.

His already solid boxing has become even crisper and his stiff jab makes for a nice 1-2 punch when paired with his incomparably fast and punishing kicks. He moves well and has continued to hone his takedown defense, denying every attempt made by Dariush, Melendez and Pettis in those three fights combined. While none is anywhere near as proficient and effective a wrestler as Nurmagomedov, the fact that Barboza was 9-for-9 when it comes to defending takedown attempts against those three elite competitors cannot be ignored, nor can his 86% takedown defense over the course of his 17 UFC appearances.

Additionally, it’s not like Nurmagomedov has had an easy year in 2018 and he heads into this one with a bunch of questions and concerns hovering overhead.

He was forced out of an interim title fight with Ferguson in March after experiencing serious health issues during his weight cut and then had hernia surgery in the summer. He’s fought just twice since April 2014 and while he looked terrific last time out, mauling Michael Johnson at UFC 205 in New York City, he’s been on the shelf for over a year and dealt with two more health issues since then. When he’s active, Nurmagomedov is one of the best fighters on the planet, but over the last several years, the times when he has been healthy and able to compete have been significantly less than the times he’s been unable to make it to the cage.

Barboza carries none of those concerns. He’s never missed weight in his 23-fight career, looks healthy and energetic when he steps on the scale and has fought eight times in the same time that Nurmagomedov has competed twice. He comes from an elite camp, is in the best form of his career and has the striking skills and footwork needed to work from the outside and frustrate someone who needs to close the distance and get inside to really get his offense going.

I don’t know whether he’s going to beat Nurmagomedov or not, but I do believe Barboza merits far more attention heading into this fight than he has been receiving thus far.

He’s not quite an afterthought because he’s featured in the Embedded series and his picture is on the poster for Saturday’s year-end event at T-Mobile Arena, but it certainly feels like a lot of people see this weekend’s contest as a tune up for Nurmagomedov while looking ahead to potential bouts between the currently unbeaten lightweight and one or both of the division’s two champions.

That could very well be how things play out, but I also wouldn’t be all that surprised if Barboza came out and handed “The Eagle” his first career loss.

This feels like one of those times where people are so caught up in the narrative and what could come next for one particular fighter that they’re overlooking the sizable task in front of them. I felt the same way heading into Cody Garbrandt’s title defense against TJ Dillashaw at UFC 217, where tons of people, including Garbrandt, were talking about his potential as a draw and setting up a fight with Demetrious Johnson as if Dillashaw was some stiff who didn’t have a chance.

While “No Love” had his moments in the first, he got stopped in the second, lost his title and all those grand plans and lofty projections disappeared into the ether.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think it wise to discount a competitor as talented and dangerous as Barboza in any fight and especially heading into a pivotal matchup like this where the winner will most likely be fighting for a title next time out.

Yes, Nurmagomedov is the betting favourite, the more popular of the two and the one who has been projected to be a title contender and potential champion since he arrived in the UFC almost six years ago, but Barboza is an elite lightweight as well and shouldn’t be treated as an afterthought in this matchup.