This Wednesday night (July 16, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweights Edson Barboza and Evan Dunham will meet in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night 45, airing live at 9 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1 from Revel Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
No. 13-ranked Barboza comes in off a heartbreaking loss to UFC Fight Night 45 headliner Donald Cerrone. He hit "Cowboy" with some big shots early, but got a bit cocky and was dropped by a jab before tapping out to a vicious rear naked choke.
The talented knockout striker will have to put the bad memories of that loss behind him if he wants to get back on track in New Jersey.
Dunham also lost his last bout to Cerrone, tapping out to a "Submission of the Night" triangle at UFC 167. With losses in three out of his past four mixed martial arts (MMA) bouts, it's becoming must-win time for the 32-year-old veteran.
And Barboza isn't exactly the kind of opponent you want to be in that predicament against.
Still, Dunham has only lost to elite fighters, and his experience could give "Junior" fits if he gets overconfident. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Barboza vs. Dunham:
Record: 13-2 overall, 7-2 UFC
Key Wins: Terry Etim (UFC 142), Ross Pearson (UFC 134), Anthony Njokuani (UFC 128), Danny Castillo (UFC on FOX 9), Lucas Martins (UFC on FX 7)
Key Losses: Donald Cerrone (UFC on FOX 11), Jamie Varner (UFC 146)
Keys to Victory: Boasting a 25-3 record as a professional kickboxer, Barboza has some of the most dangerous and fluid striking in all of the UFC lightweight division.
However, that much has never been on trial; it's his continued inability to capitalize in big fights that's held back the gifted Barboza in recent years.
Varner sent him back down the ladder at UFC 146, and Cerrone did the same thing at UFC on FOX 11. The worst part about the Cerrone loss was that Barboza was winning the fight. But he started dancing around the Octagon and paid the ultimate price for it.
He simply can't allow that to happen against Dunham. Despite his recent slide, Dunham still has the skills defeat him in another winnable fight.
Barboza needs to pick Dunham apart on the feet in a controlled manner, mixing up his power shots and lethal leg kicks into combinations that don't leave him open to get taken down. He has to let a finish present itself rather than forcing it to materialize out of thin air.
Dunham is a slick grappler with six submissions to his name, so Barboza has to continue exhibiting excellent takedown defense to get back in the win column.
Record: 14-5 overall, 7-5 UFC
Key Wins: Gleison Tibau (UFC 156), Nik Lentz (UFC on FOX 2), Tyson Griffin (UFC 115)
Key Losses: Donald Cerrone (UFC 167), Rafael dos Anjos (UFC on FX 8), TJ Grant (UFC 152), Melvin Guillard (UFC Fight Night 23: "Fight for Troops 3"), Sean Sherk (UFC 119)
Keys to Victory: The wildly inconsistent Dunham could be nearing the end of his UFC run if he can't get past Barboza tomorrow night.
With only three knockouts to his name, he certainly doesn't want to stand and trade with "Junior." Having only been knocked out once, he has a good chin, but going blow for blow with a striking specialist like Barboza is a recipe for disaster.
The clearest way Dunham can pick up the huge win is by making this fight ugly.
A black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Dunham will be looking to drag Barboza to the mat any way he can. Barboza was just submitted by Cerrone, so Dunham will be looking to take advantage of that perceived leak in his game.
Dunham should be focusing on a heavy amount of clinch work on the cage in an effort to get the fight to the ground. Once there, he'll attempt to damage Barboza with some strikes while going for a fight-ending submission.
He would greatly help his plight by scoring a finish, but at this point, that simply can't be counted on from Dunham. He hasn't finished a UFC bout since January 2010, but he's been on the receiving end of more than one stoppage.
It's going to take Dunham's finest hour to defeat Barboza, and a wrestling-heavy gameplan will bring the highest chance of success.
Bottom Line from Atlantic City: The bottom line for this fight is that Barboza has been given a step down in competition so he can begin building another win streak in order to hopefully realize his potential.
His loss to Varner snapped a 10-fight win streak, and his loss to Cerrone snapped a three-fight UFC run. Barboza simply can't continue to fight his way up the ladder only to lose a big fight. He has to win now, and he could do himself a huge favor by doing it impressively.
Dunham has been fighting like a wounded animal lately, and although his defeats have come to some of the best, he's going to have to pick up a win sometime soon. The oddsmakers would tell you that this isn't that time. If he can't get this fight to the ground relatively quickly, it probably won't be.
There's no question that Barboza's kickboxing gives him the potential to be one of MMA's growing stars. He has to fight like he's not already there yet.
Given Dunham's latest results, he's the perfect opponent to start Barboza's next run.
However, the aggressive veteran has his back up against the wall, and that makes him dangerous. This match-up is going to tell us a lot about where both fighters' careers are headed in the near future, and that means it could be quite the battle.
Enjoy the fight.
After disappointing losses crushed his momentum, Edson Barboza looks to rebuild momentum against the reeling Evan Dunham. Will the dangerous striker prove he's learned from his past mistakes?