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Born premature, Edson Barboza wasn't expected to make it past infancy

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Edson Barboza had to emerge from the humblest beginnings to become one of the most dynamic strikers in the UFC today, and that barely begins to scratch the surface of all his travails. In fact, from the very beginning, there were no guarantees that Edson would even make it.

In 1986, with his mother Leila Barboza facing complications late in her second trimester, Edson was born three months prematurely, and for the first weeks of his life was essentially given up for lost.

"My mother had problems during pregnancy," Barboza said on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. "I was born at six or seven months old. My mother had lot of problems, but thank God I'm here today. The doctor told my dad, ‘your boy is going to die, for sure.’ My dad went crazy."

Barboza was already in for the fight of his life from the opening bell, but made it.

"I was very small," he told Ariel Helwani. "I think I stayed in the hospital for three or four months. I think I was finally normal, a healthy baby, [after] four or five months."

That premature baby grew up to become an energetic kid, so his father looked for a sport where Barboza could focus all that bound-up energy. And that’s how he came to begin training in muay Thai.

"I didn’t have a lot options in Brazil," he said. "I think my first professional fight I was 16 and they paid me to fight. My dad said, ‘is that what you want?’ And I said 'yes.' My dad loves my fights, but my mom hates it. She never watches.

"My mom just asks ‘is Edson okay?’" he continued. "[My dad] says, ‘everything’s fine.’ She never watches me fight. [When I had] my first muay Thai fight I was eight years old and she couldn't watch."

Leila Barboza dislikes MMA so much she didn’t even watch her son’s devastating knockout over Terry Etim at UFC 142 -- which was the knockout of the year, incidentally -- in Rio de Janeiro.

"She never watches it because I believe she thinks the guy knocked me out, too," he said. "She doesn’t understand it very well."

The muay Thai specialist returns to the Octagon to meet Danny Castillo on Dec. 14, at UFC on FOX 9 in Sacramento, and he loves the match-up against the Team Alpha Male fighter.

"It's a perfect fight," he said. "It's a good fight to prove my wrestling game. He's fighting in his hometown, and that’s good. I love to fight when they boo [me]. It makes me excited. Everything is perfect."

The last time Barboza used his jiu-jitsu to win a bout was in 2009, when he choked out Lee King to defend his Renaissance MMA lightweight title. However, training with the likes of Renzo Gracie and Ricardo Almeida in New York has helped him to become a well-rounded fighter.

"That's an MMA fight," he said. "You never know. I'm ready for takedowns. I don't know. Maybe I’ll surprise everybody and take him down. I'm ready for jiu-jitsu, wrestling, striking, everything."