Edson Barboza wants a shot at the UFC lightweight championship, lineal or interim, and went to Las Vegas to find out what he needs to do to fulfill his dream.
Two months after scoring his third win in a row with one of the best knockouts of the year, stopping Beneil Dariush with a flying knee in Brazil, Barboza flew to Las Vegas to meet with the UFC brass and discuss what’s next for him.
"I went there with my manager, Alex Davis, to talk to the UFC and see where we’re at, what I need to do to get a chance for the belt,” Barboza told MMA Fighting. "We went there to talk and see what my next steps will be in the company."
Barboza says he sat down with UFC president Dana White and matchmaker Sean Shelby, but didn’t get a clear answer to his question: after defeating Anthony Pettis, Gilbert Melendez and Dariush in 11 months, what more is needed to earn a fight for the UFC gold?
"When I talked to Sean Shelby and Dana, they said they also don’t know what is going to happen,” Barboza said. "They are waiting, too. There’s this possibility of fighting of the belt, the possibility of waiting, the possibility of fighting one more time. They don’t know. Nobody knows what's going to happen in this division.
"Nobody knows the next steps for Khabib (Nurmagomedov) and (Tony) Ferguson. I think I’m the only one stepping up to fight. We’ll see what happens.”
Barboza was called out by new UFC signee Justin Gaethje, former WSOF lightweight champion, and was willing to take the fight if no one else was available. However, a left shoulder injury will keep him away from the Octagon a little longer.
"I can do jiu-jitsu drills, wrestling, but I can’t punch,” Barboza said of his injury. "I learned in my last fight that I can’t fight if I’m not 100 percent.”
The Brazilian lightweight will visit his doctor early next week to get a definitive answer about his return. However, a minute after saying it’s too risky to take fights when you’re not 100 percent, Barboza said he would do it again if given the opportunity to face Ferguson or Nurmagomedov.
"I’ll talk to the doctor again and he will let me know what I have to do,” Barboza said. "But I told the UFC I’m ready if they really want to give me a fight for the belt, that I’m ready for any date they want. If they want, I’d fight tomorrow."
"That’s why I’m here for, to fight for the belt,” he continued. "But it doesn’t even need to be for an interim belt. One of those two, I’d fight them now, for sure. If it’s for the interim belt, even better.”
Currently ranked at No. 5 in the UFC lightweight division, Barboza sees Ferguson and Nurmagomedov as the only fights that make sense for him next. Rafael dos Anjos, who’s also ahead of him in the ranking, has moved up to welterweight, and Eddie Alvarez is not an option since they train together.
"My last fights were against guys ranked below me, and I think I deserve to fight someone ahead of me now, and they are the two only options,” Barboza said. "I’d fight them any time, even with an injured shoulder."
“El Cucuy” scored a win over Barboza in 2015, part of his nine-fight winning streak, while “The Eagle” holds a perfect 24-0 MMA record with eight Octagon wins.
"I’m positive that I’d beat both of them if I’m there at my best,” says Barboza, who is leaning towards a rematch with Ferguson as the ideal scenario.
"A fight with Tony would be more interesting because it’s a rematch. I accepted that fight on four weeks’ notice — and this is not an excuse — and he landed that weird kick that everybody saw, and I was dizzy, but no excuses. A fight with him, full camp and no illegal kick, I’m sure I’d come out victorious."