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Bryan Barberena happy playing spoiler role, but not surprised by his success

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

It’s not just that Bryan Barberena keeps getting dealt hot prospects in the UFC, it’s that he’s finding himself battling crazy circumstances, too. Since debuting against Jake Ellenberger’s brother, Joe, in Dec. 2014, Barberena is always the guy fighting the guy. He took on the undefeated Canadian Chad Laprise up in Quebec at UFC 186, and attemped to block out the partisan crowd in losing a decision.

He then fought Sage Northcutt, precious marketing cargo for the UFC who was being fast-tracked to super-stardom, in January. That time he derailed a great many plans by submitting Northcutt in the second round on national broadcast television.

And this past weekend at UFC 198, his pentinence for that deed was facing the unbeaten Warlly Alves in Curitiba, Brazil, where Barberena would be installed not only as an underdog but as an interloper. So what did "Bam Bam" Barberena do? He kicked the needle of the record, scoring a unanimous decision over Alves to the disappointment of 45,000 people.

So far Barbenera hasn’t been very cooperative with Hallmark narratives. He has become one of the game’s great spoilers. He’s winning the uphill battles, against opponents with a combined 42-1 record heading into his UFC fights.

"Yeah, my coach [John Crouch] actually told me about that in this camp," Barberena said during an appearance on The MMA Hour. "It doesn’t matter to me. Just keep putting them in front of me and I’ll show you. There’s someone that’s always going to lose, there’s always going to be a guy to beat them, it’s going to be me. Why not me?"

Against Alves, it looked like Barberena would go quietly early in the fight, when Alves went to work on a guillotine choke. For a brief moment it looked like the Brazilian was going to use Barberena as more fodder for his highlight reel.

Barberena survived the attempt, and in fact said it wasn’t as bad as it looked.

"Not close at all," he told Ariel Helwani. "No, he didn’t have it under the chin. I was ready for any situation, but when he went for it he wasn’t even under my chin, and was just waiting there. He yelled to the ref, I think he yelled to the ref, ‘he’s out,’ or something, and that’s when I gave the ref the thumb’s up.

"At that point I was like, oh, I should go for the escape, and get out of this. He was squeezing pretty tight even still, so I was like, I’ll wait…let him gas his arms out a little bit, and then get to work."

Barberena began to turn the tide after that, controlling the fight in the second and third rounds en-route to a unanimous decision victory. He said that even though it was going to the judges in Brazil (against a Brazilian) he didn’t worry about any kind of homecooking as the scores were being read.

"No, actually I thought I had it all the way," he said. "After the fight I’d talked to some people, and they were like it was a close fight, and I was like, damn, was it? I thought for sure I won. I thought maybe the first round, you know the first round felt like his. But I was coming back towards the end. But the second and third I thought I had for sure. So I was like, wow, maybe it was closer than I thought. When I was in there I was definitely like, I got this.

"And then when they got to the announcements and they say unanimous decision, then you’re kind of like…we are in Brazil. Maybe I started raising my hand a little premature. They they said, Bryan Barberena, and I was like, yup, that was right."

The 27-year old Barberena (12-3) inked a new four-fight deal after upsetting Northcutt at UFC on FOX 18. Asked if he wished he’d have waited in retrospect, given that he defeated Alves in such a way, he laughed.

"It is what it is," he said. "I just want to keep fighting, keep getting better, fighting better guys and climbing the ladder. Hopefully next they give me another tough guy. I felt like I’ve had tough competition this whole journey in the UFC so far. Every guy I’ve had has been tough. Let’s keep that going. I’ll fight more tough guys. Keep lining them up, I’ll keep knocking them down."