Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweights Edson Barboza and Michael Johnson look to move closer to title contention this Sunday night (Feb. 22, 2015) at UFC Fight Night 61 on FOX Sports 1 inside the Ginasio Gigantinho in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
Having won five of his last six bouts, Barboza is not far from getting another match up with the division's elite. Win or lose, Barboza is certain to demonstrate his vicious brand of Muay Thai, as the Brazilian has some of the nastiest kicks in UFC.
After an inconsistent beginning to his UFC career, Johnson seems to have put it all together. He's currently on a three fight win streak and looked very good in each of those performances. Still, Johnson is currently just outside the top 10, and a victory here would certainly move him into that esteemed position.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for each fighter.
Key Wins: Bobby Green (UFC Fight Night 57), Danny Castillo (UFC on FOX 9), Evan Dunham (UFC Fight Night 45)
Key Losses: Donald Cerrone (UFC on FOX 11), Jamie Varner (UFC 146)
Keys to Victory: Barboza is a truly devastating kicker. His boxing and movement have definitely improved in the last couple years -- which has been a major reason for his recent success -- but the potential to end the bout that resides in each and every one of Barboza's kicks is what really separates Barboza from the rest of the pack.
For the first time since perhaps Lucas Martins, Barboza really doesn't have to worry about the takedown in this bout. Johnson is definitely a quality wrestler, but his style of smooth kickboxing does not rely on level change feints in the least, nor does he use it to set up his takedowns.
Unless Johnson has drastically switched up his style during his off time, that means Barboza can really unleash his kicks. That's a worrying prospect for "The Menace."
In this bout, Barboza should be happy to maintain the range that Johnson usually employs against his foe. Since Barboza isn't trying to close the distance and land punches/takedowns, he doesn't have to worry quite so much about Johnson's excellent counter striking.
Instead, he can look to time his kicks so that Johnson is moving into them, which could end the bout immediately. While he definitely still has to be wary of Johnson's boxing skills, Barboza's own pugilistic skills are certainly on his opponent's level.
Key Wins: Gleison Tibau (UFC 168), Joe Lauzon (UFC Fight Night 26), Danny Castillo (UFC on FX 5)
Key Losses: Myles Jury (UFC 155)
Keys to Victory: Johnson is an excellent kickboxer with very good movement. Since the vast majority of his opponents are looking to take him down, Johnson likes to force his opponent to reach for him and open himself up to counter punches.
Alternatively, Johnson is very quick to hop forward with a sharp jab or step into his heavy straight left.
If Johnson has one advantage in this bout, it's likely his durability. His submission defense may have been a major issue in his past, but Barboza isn't the fighter to expose that flaw, and "The Menace" has never been knocked out.
In order for that last statement to remain true after this weekend, Johnson should look to pressure Barboza. That doesn't mean Johnson should abandon his excellent footwork, but the Blackzilian should use his fleet feet to trap his opponent against the fence.
If Johnson successfully traps Barboza against the fence, he's forcing the Brazilian to box with him. In boxing exchanges, Barboza isn't nearly as fast and his defense isn't as tight. In short, Johnson needs to box with Barboza as much as possible, as trading kicks with "Junior" is a dangerous prospect.
Bottom Line: This will be an exciting kickboxing duel between two of the UFC's most dynamic strikers. It's also the best fight on the card by quite a bit.
There's been a couple of bumps along the way, but Barboza is definitely on a path toward the top of his division. He's one of the most dynamic fighters in the sport and usually wins in style. Should the Brazilian earn a victory here, he's likely one win away from a title shot.
Though being forced onto the sidelines stalled his momentum a bit, Johnson is still regarded as one of the finest fighters in the division. If Johnson takes out Barboza, it will be the first top-10 victory of his career. Depending on how the rest of the division shakes out, Johnson would at most be two victories away from a potential title shot.
Since these two scrappers are nearly in the same position according to the rankings, neither will fall particularly far with a loss. However, it will force them to build up another win streak of three or more if they want a title shot, rather than their current position of a win or two away.
At UFC Fight Night 61, Edson Barboza and Michael Johnson will chase the knockout. Which man will have his hand raised inside the Octagon come Sunday night?