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Bryan Barberena frustrated, ‘disrespected' by Sage Northcutt's ‘excuses'

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Bryan Barberena barely made it home to Glendale before the MMA world tossed an asterisk onto his breakout win over Sage Northcutt.

Barberena submitted the 19-year-old Northcutt with an arm-triangle choke at UFC on FOX 18, defying the odds and smashing the hype that surrounded the previously unbeaten teenager, even despite accepting the fight on eight days' notice. The win was a massive one for Barberena, one that cemented him as a name to watch in UFC welterweight division in front of millions of viewers on FOX. But those good vibes only lasted a few days before the narrative drifted back toward his foe.

In an interview this week on The MMA Hour, Northcutt chalked up the loss to a prolonged battle with strep throat, stating that illness prevented him from performing like his normal self on fight night. And after hearing Northcutt's explanation, Barberena can't help but feel a little slighted by the whole situation.

"I feel like he's trying to take away what I've done," Barberena said. "Trying to put down that I beat him, like it was only because of this. In one article I saw, he said the choke wasn't what made him tap. It was that he couldn't breathe, because he was congested. No, he couldn't breathe because I was choking him. That's why.

"I can't help but take it as just excuses, him coming out and saying things. Even if they really did happen, like he did go to the doctor or whatever, it is what it is. He made the decision to step in there. We all have things. We all have injuries we go into the fight with. I had my own things that I went into the fight with that I'm not going to discuss or anything. Some people like to go out and talk about it, and some people don't. I think it's just an excuse to pretty much take away what I did, in a way. That's how I feel. I feel almost a little disrespected, how I'm not getting the credit that I deserve for beating him.

"With that said, I'm fine to do it again anytime. It doesn't matter to me. I see the same thing happening every time."

Barberena entered UFC on FOX 18 as the biggest betting underdog of the card, largely because of the hype engulfing his teenage opponent. By that point, Northcutt had already picked up two impressive victories in just four months inside the promotion, and much of the talk during fight week centered around Barberena standing little chance, despite his pedigree coming from a decorated camp like The MMA Lab.

Yet once Barberena won, he couldn't help but hear the revisionist histories from many online, criticizing him for celebrating a victory over a 19-year-old while ignoring the overwhelming odds that had been cast against him in the first place.

"It is a little frustrating," Barberena admitted. "I was 19, I fought grown men before. Yeah, I wasn't in the UFC, but it's the same thing, right? Before the fight, everybody is saying, ‘oh, you're going to get murdered. He's this specimen. He's going to kill you. He's going to knock you out. He's going to finish you in the first round so fast. You're just out of shape. You're chubby. You're fat. He's so strong, he's going to murder you.' All of this stuff.

"But then when I win, it's, ‘damn, man, he's a 19-year-old kid. What are you doing? Why are you happy you won? Why are you celebrating like that because you won?' Well, you know what? No one believed in me besides my people, my family and friends. It was an emotional, exciting moment for me and my team. So, it's a little frustrating."

It was not lost on Barberena that Northcutt shared heavily in that post-fight criticism online, as swarms of the teenager's fellow UFC fighters rushed to social media to exult in his loss. It was an unusual sight, especially considering the sheer number of Northcutt's UFC stablemates who threw in their two cents and piled on the youngster in the midst of his first professional setback.

Promotional pushes like the one the UFC gave Northcutt are rare to find in this sport, though, so Barberena can see where many of those critics were coming from. But Barberena also feels like much of that post-fight chatter, ultimately, was misguided.

"A lot of people were upset with how much he's making, stuff like that," Barberena said. "People who put in the time and have been in the sport for a while aren't making even what he is making. I didn't go into this fight caring about that. I still don't care about that. Good for him. If they offered me $40k/$40k in my first few fights, hell yeah I'd take it. Why wouldn't I? But it wasn't about that. It was just about winning, about beating him, because he was the one who was going to be standing across from me.

"For the people who were excited, hopefully you were excited for me, I guess. But for most of it, it seemed like they were excited just that he lost and giving him a hard time, and I don't agree with that necessarily. Giving him a hard time and saying mean things to him, I don't agree with that. I don't think that's necessary. He's going to get better and he's going to grow."

Barberena said after his win that he hoped to send a message to the UFC welterweight division, which he now calls home after a 1-1 run at lightweight. However, in light of everything that has happened over the past few days, he wonders if that is even the case.

"I feel like more people know who I am," Barberena said. "But I guess the message probably isn't sent yet. It doesn't seem like it at least. People just think, you know, I showed something that was a known thing anyways -- that he was going to lose anyways. It is what it is. I'm going to keep winning fights, and they're going to have no choice but to put me at the top. They can't deny me."

After fighting just once last year, Barberena hopes his fortunate start to 2016 is an omen of good things to come. He wants to compete at least three or four more times before the year's end, and as long as he keeps showing flashes like he did on Saturday, he knows he'll become a fan favorite soon enough.

A few more daring feats of athleticism, like his memorable post-fight tumble, probably won't hurt either.

"It was just a spur of the moment thing," Barberena said, laughing. "I don't know, it just came to me. I just felt like I needed to do it. It wasn't even towards him to make fun of his flip or anything. Like, f**k, I wish I could this crazy front flip. But it was more for the people who didn't believe, who thought ‘the chubby-looking guy isn't going to do s**t.' And then I won, so it was just perfect. Because yeah, I can't do a front flip either, but I'll do this damn roll, and you know what, I'm fine with it. Basically making fun of myself. As long as I can perform and fight, it doesn't matter."