Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight knockout artists Justin Gaethje and Edson Barboza will go to war TONIGHT (March 30, 2019) at UFC on ESPN 2 from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
There is no man who walk to the cage and guarantee action more than “The Highlight,” Justin Gaethje. The former All-American wrestler has almost entirely left his decorated wrestling career in the past, choosing instead the style of tactical brawler. Win or lose, Gaethje has never failed to make his mark. Barboza is the furthest thing from a boring fighter himself, which is precisely the reason this match up was made. Last time out, the Brazilian recovered from a rough pair of losses in style, pummeling Dan Hooker brutally en route to a third-round stoppage.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Michael Johnson (TUF 25 Finale), James Vick (UFC Fight Night 135), Luis Palomino (WSOF 19, 23), Melvin Guillard (WSOF 15)
Key Losses: Dustin Poirier (UFC on FOX 29), Eddie Alvarez (UFC 218)
Keys to Victory: Gaethje is one of the more unique fighters to ever compete — both from a stylistic and mental viewpoint. He makes it clear that his entire goal is to hurt his opponent, be it with looping punches, crushing kicks, or suffocating pressure. If he gets hurt, too? That’s secondary.
It is remarkably clear what Gaethje has to do to win this fight, and luckily, it lines up with what Gaethje does every other time. Pressure is the name of the game in defeating Barboza: the man does not lose unless his opponent is pushing forward, biting down on his mouth piece, and making it a miserable fight.
Perhaps this is the fight that Gaethje finally returns to his wrestling — the brawler has mentioned the possibility. If so, that would be a wise choice, but the bottom line of pressure over everything must remain.
Back the Muay Thai master into the fence and don’t let him unleash those brutal kicks.
Key Wins: Anthony Pettis (UFC 197), Gilbert Melendez (UFC on FOX 20), Dan Hooker (UFC on FOX 31), Beneil Dariush (UFC Fight Night 106), Paul Felder (UFC on FOX 16)
Key Losses: Kevin Lee (UFC Fight Night 128), Khabib Nurmagomedov (UFC 219), Tony Ferguson (TUF 22 Finale), Donald Cerrone (UFC on FOX 11), Michael Johnson (UFC Fight Night 61)
Keys to Victory: Barboza has a strong argument as the roster’s nastiest kicker. No one else has finished fights via leg, body and high kick. To be specific, that high kick would be more accurately described as a spinning wheel kick to the face — good luck replicating that record.
Barboza has to create distance and gain some breathing room. Gaethje is going to do his damnedest to ensure he has neither, but there are two primary ways that Barboza can return to his distance kickboxing: force Gaethje to respect his offense and capitalize when his foe is fatigued.
Years back, Bobby Green tried to walk through and no-sell Barboza’s offense — it didn’t work. Barboza’s strikes are way too powerful to ignore or playoff, and that should hold true even to Gaethje. Specifically, Barboza’s spinning back kick would be a great tool in disrupting pressure, particularly since Gaethje’s high guard exposes the belly.
Fatigue will happen without much effort from Barboza, as Gaethje pushes a pace that is intended to exhaust both of them. When the war of attrition is fully in swing, it’s important that Barboza remembers the goal: distance! If he can circle away from a brief moment when both of their bodies are screaming, he’ll be back at range to chop Gaethje down or slam his body and slowly shift the momentum to his side.
Bottom Line: All Justin Gaethje fights are must-watch. All Edson Barboza fights are must-watch. Simple math dictates that you should probably tune in tonight.
Gaethje is currently with striking distance of a title shot, but those are remarkably difficult to come by at 155 pounds. However, being madly exciting and knocking off top contenders is the best way to leapfrog other contenders. Plus, as Gaethje himself has acknowledged, he only has a short time left in the Octagon given his fighting style. As such, a win keeps him in the title hunt, while a loss likely cements his place as an action fighter.
Barboza is in an interesting position. He’s got some bad losses to current top Lightweights, defeats that should take him out of the mix completely. At the same time, Barboza is such a talented kickboxer. If he can improve his weak areas and deal with pressure more effectively, there’s no reason Barboza cannot avenge some of those losses and go on a title run of his own.
At 33 years of age, that improvement and subsequent run must begin now, as there’s no longer room for setbacks.
At UFC on ESPN 2, Justin Gaethje and Edson Barboza will clash in what is sure to be an instant classic. Which man will have his hand raised following the mayhem?