While the 155-pound division is stacked with talent, Edson Barboza stands out as the latest high-level prospect to make noise among the lightweights.
Still undefeated (10-0), the dynamic Brazilian finished Terry Etim at UFC 142 last night (Jan. 14, 2012) with an epic spinning back kick in the third round at UFC 142, finishing a bout that he controlled, for the most part, and closed in memorable style.
Roughly tiered, top lightweights in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) are almost exclusively wrestling-based fighters, who've relied on gym time and intense work to bring their striking to a reasonable -- if not outstanding -- level. What makes Barboza a fresh break from this mold is that he's obviously a striker first, with punishing kicks. He controls distance astutely with the threat of those kicks, making opponents loath to engage or get close.
It'd be great to see more of his ground game, as he bounced back easily from two Etim takedowns, but we will soon enough.
Many of the top 10 lightweights are booked on upcoming cards, but the depth and talent in the division gives the UFC time to develop Barboza with some fights that will supply experience and meaningful tests, without necessarily having to throw him neck-deep into the pool.
And honestly, I'm not sure I want to see him in against someone like Clay Guida just yet, because after "The Carpenter" beat Anthony Pettis (another exciting young striker on a career surge), it felt like everyone lost because the match only showed that Guida could get and hold a takedown (no knock on him, but let's be honest: that was a letdown for everyone involved).
Donald Cerrone would be a great next match for Barboza. "Cowboy" is willing to trade strikes, has a solid chin, and never has a boring fight. If not Cerrone, perhaps the winner of Anthony Pettis vs. Joe Lauzon. Barboza has a lot of talent, and it'll be interesting to see how he's matched as he continues to progress.
It's my theory that almost everyone without a wrestling background is going to get grounded and ridden into defeat at the highest levels of lightweight, but Barboza, with more experience, might be the guy to test that theory.
For a recap of the fight between Edson Barboza vs. Terry Etim click here. To check out complete UFC 142: "Aldo vs. Mendes" results click here.
Jason Probst can be reached at www.twitter.com/jasonprobst