Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Brazilian Lightweight Edson Barboza is on the verge of acquiring super stardom, already cementing his place as one of the world's deadliest 155-pound competitors.
It is largely because Barboza dropped the jaws of observers around the globe when he scored the "Knockout of The Year" (and possibly the century, too) when he wheel-kicked Terry Etim into unconsciousness at UFC 142 two years ago.
It is opportunities like those "Junior" loves to capitalize on, even though it is a distant memory for him in this stage of his mixed martial arts (MMA) career.
"Everyone still talks about that knockout, which makes me pretty happy, but it is something that I've already turned the page," Barboza told MMAmania. "I can't describe in words the feeling that I had when I got that knockout. It was such an amazing feeling. I didn't realize right away that I was able to do that, but I soon as he landed I knew I had knocked him out due to the way he fell. I just feel really blessed to be able to do what I love."
Not everyone finds his or her niche in life, especially in the world of fighting. Several mixed martial artists will profess their love for the sport, yet it is still a difficult job with minimal opportunities in regards to money, fame and success. However, the name of the game includes knocking out several practitioners of the sport, and those who give more than 100% at all times are usually successful in the long run.
Barboza points to his teammates in that regard. The former Ring of Combat lightweight champion was 25-years-old when he made his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) debut, amassing a promotional record of 6-1 since his debut fight against Anthony Njokuani at UFC 128.
Training with certain individuals can elevate your game tremendously, since a good team and a solid training camp makes all the difference in preparing for an important bout. This upcoming weekend at UFC on FOX 11, the Brazilian goes up against fellow UFC standout Donald Cerrone on the main card in a fight sure to get the fireworks cracking at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.
"Cerrone is a good fighter...I am ready for tough fights," said Barboza. "If my fight against Cerrone will be tough, I will be ready. I train with the best guys. I train with Frankie Edgar, Marlon Moraes, Frank Perez, Sidney, Akira, and many others. I have the best coaches which are Mark Henry, Ricardo Almeida and Anderson Franca. I am prepared for this fight."
The Rio de Janeiro-born combatant's training partners are indubitably in a class of their own, as champions from the past and present surround the youngster at Ricardo Almeida Jiu-Jitsu in the New Jersey region. His coach's accolades speak for themselves, as former Pancrase middleweight champion Ricardo Almeida remains one of the most respected Brazilian jiu-jitsu gurus in the game today. Training partners include the former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, the current World Series of Fighting (WSOF) bantamweight champion Marlon Moraes, undefeated Ring of Combat lightweight title challenger Frankie Perez, and current UFC featherweight Akira Corassani. Boxing coach Mark Henry and Muay Thai Master Anderson Franca are also clinical to the team's success, therefore, it is safe to say the East side fight team has a good group of people around them.
In fact, Barboza credits his mates for helping him overcome his difficult first round against Team Alpha Male's Danny Castillo at UFC on FOX 9 this past December in his latest fight. The striker, who defeated two opponents on leg kicks alone in the past, was on the receiving end of great turmoil due to Castillo's punches, after a solid right hand had Barboza on wobbly legs in the first round. After "Last Call" secured the takedown, he tried to soften up his foe with punches and elbows after a rear-naked choke attempt -- bloodying Barboza in the process.
But "Junior" survived the scare and ended up taking the fight by majority decision, after loosening up and changing the complexion of the fight by stuffing takedowns, using leg kicks, hard punches and spinning kicks -- much like the one that finished Etim -- to score the controversial nod from the judges.
"In the beginning, that fight was similar to my fight against (Jamie) Varner, but you see how different I am," Barboza said. "I could recover it and when I went to the corner in the first round I was completely recovered. Almeida, Henry, and Franca, they work really well together. Ricardo came to me and said I should recover the next two rounds and play my game. That was what I did. I have the best coaches at my corner."
The fight against Jamie Varner was Barboza's only defeat in his career. Coming in at a massive underdog, the former WEC lightweight champion took the fight against the Brazilian on short notice, after being welcomed back to the promotion in 2012 to replace Evan Dunham at UFC 146. The American knocked out Barboza in the first round, shocking the followers of the sport who thought "Merdson" could have been on his way to title contention had he won.
"I had to take off that time to fix some stuff," admits Barboza. "After that, I changed everything in my professional life. I was able to look back and see what I was doing wrong, and I actually I was doing a lot of things wrong. My camp was not going right. I was not doing the diet in the right way."
That is when he received the call from the New Jersey fight team, with a great deal of help stemming from fellow Brazilian and legend of the sport, Renzo Gracie.
"I had an invitation to come to New Jersey and help Frankie Edgar for his fight against Ben Henderson," said Barboza. "As soon as I got in New Jersey and I saw the structure they had, I saw the partners and I tried to enjoy every single training I was practicing. I followed Frankie to every training he was doing, I followed his coaches. I had a great time training with him, his partners and his coaches. I felt like they had everything that I needed. In the other hand, I had what they were looking for which was some striker games. So, I trained there, I got back to Florida, and I talked to my wife and said, ‘I need that team'. Since then, I didn't stop talking to the whole team. Since the first time I trained boxing with Mark Henry it was like we've trained for many years. Ricardo Almeida is a Brazilian guy who has a way similar to mine, he is quiet with such a good energy. Renzo Gracie is ‘Renzo Gracie', who knows him know exactly what I am talking about. There is no one with such a great energy and helpfulness like Renzo. So, they all welcomed very well to get into the team. I really have a lot respect for all those guys."
Florida was a place Barboza called home in the earlier stages of his career, debuting with a win in the "Sunshine State" in his very first fight. He did not fight in front of his native Brazil until UFC 134, going 9-0 after beating Ross Pearson by split decision.
"I made my MMA debut in Florida, but I've been fighting Muay Thai since I was 8 years old in Brazil," Barboza said. "I don't see much difference between fighting over here in US or in Brazil. Of Course, in Brazil, you have such a great feeling with all the energy that comes from your fans, family and friends, watching you and cheering you on. But as I always say, when the cage closes it's only me, the judge and my opponent."
It is every fighter's dream to hoist a major championship, and the goal is no different for the lightweight slugger. Drawing inspiration from his countrymen who have held major titles before him such as Anderson Silva, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Wanderlei Silva, the four-time "Fight of The Night" winner eyes a championship duel against Anthony Pettis after his fight against "Cowboy" in his homecoming.
"This is what I am looking for," Barboza admits. "I know Pettis will only fight in December, but I know a win over Cowboy will bring me closer to the title shot, and I will give more than my best to get this win over him."
Fuelled by those who surround him, including fellow fighters and family, it is about achieving greatness in the sport and winning the most prestigious title of them all in the MMA world. This is where it all begins again for Barboza, after returning to Florida for the first time since going 1-0 in the cage.
"I want to be the champion. I want that belt. That's my goal. My family and my team are always motivating me. I know I have the skills, motivation and will to be the best MMA Lightweight Fighter in the world."
For more coverage on UFC on FOX 11: "Werdum vs. Browne" taking place TONIGHT check out the finalized card right here.