Edson Barboza returns to action three months after scoring the biggest win of his career, and even though he thinks that a victory over Gilbert Melendez could earn him a shot at the UFC lightweight title, the Brazilian could say no to the opportunity.
On April 23, the Nova Friburgo-native scored a unanimous decision win over Anthony Pettis at UFC 197. He wasn’t able to get an impressive finish like in some of his previous bouts, but he was happy for other reasons.
"I was able to be the Edson Barboza I am with my training partners in the gym," Barboza told MMA Fighting. "I couldn’t do that in other fights. I trained one way, but didn’t do the same things in the fight. In this fight, I was able to do that, and I’m happy because I know I can do a lot more. That makes me hungry."
The key for the change, he says, was through psychology.
"I did a psychological work for this fight with Maria Leticia," said Barboza, who called his UFC 197 win the biggest so far in his career. "I knew what to do. I did in training, but it wasn’t the same in the fight, my game plan. I thought it could be something in my head, so I worked hard on that. It was really part of my camp, twice a week. She helped me a lot, and you saw the result in the Octagon."
Exactly three months later, on July 23, Barboza enters the cage to battle former Strikeforce lightweight kingpin Gilbert Melendez at UFC on FOX 20. Even though Melendez has only one win in four UFC bouts, Barboza still sees him as part of the elite of the sport.
"I took this fight because Gilbert is at the top for years," he said. "If you talk about the best 155ers and don’t mention his name, you don’t know MMA that well. He is one of the best for a long time. I accepted the fight because it’s a big challenge, a good scrap. He comes to fight for real, so it’s going to be a great one.
"He has a good wrestling, but is a brawler, has a beautiful style like myself," he continued. "I hope we do a beautiful fight. It’s a MMA fight so we can go anywhere, but I hope he comes trying to knock me out because I want to knock him out. It’s going to be a great fight."
Before his fight with Pettis, Barboza told MMA Fighting he envisioned himself dominating the former champion. Ahead of UFC on FOX 20, the word is "control".
"Like in my fight against Anthony Pettis, I want to control the action, control the fight," Barboza said. "The key for the victory is to control the fight and hit him. Brother, every time he comes close he will eat two or three."
With an 11-4 record under the UFC banner, Barboza believes that a win in July could put him right in title contention -- especially if you look at Eddie Alvarez, who earned a shot at UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos in a two-fight winning streak over Pettis and Melendez.
"Eddie’s last fights were against Pettis and Gilbert, and I’m walking the same path," said the Brazilian, who trains with Alvarez. "He beat those two guys and went straight for the belt, so I hope the same happens to me. He gave me tips, said where Gilbert is strong and talked about the holes in his game. He also helped me a lot for my fight with Anthony Pettis. We train together almost every day, helping each other."
Barboza is confident that Alvarez will beat dos Anjos to become the UFC champion on July 7, and would turn down a title shot to avoid fighting his teammate.
"He’s my training partner and I root for him. His victory is my victory," Barboza said. "I’m rooting a lot for him to become champion. I want him to bring the belt to our team. And as long as he has the belt, he’s the champion, I’ll be there protecting him. ‘Look, whoever wants to fight Eddie, will have to go past me first’. I would never fight a training partner, especially because he’s a good friend. If he was only a training partner, I’d fight him, but he’s a friend. I really want him to bring the belt to the team.
"Eddie is a great fighter, I really don’t need to say anything about him. He’s at the top for years. He fought everyone in every promotion. He has everything that it takes to go there and win the belt."