Brazil’s Barboza is one of the most feared strikers in the lightweight division and he’ll bring his elite standup skills to the Octagon on Saturday when he fights Lee in the main event of UFC Atlantic City at Boardwalk Hall in New Jersey. The 32-year-old has had trouble with grapplers in the past, and wrestling just happens to be one of Lee’s most effective weapons.
The same was true of Barboza’s last opponent Khabib Nurmagomedov, who brutalized Barboza for five rounds en route to a clear-cut unanimous decision win. Appearing on The MMA Hour on Monday, Lee told Ariel Helwani that he is going top Nurmagomedov’s performance.
“The Khabib fight was good, but there was so many guys that did so much better against him,” Lee said. “Khabib just kind of went out there and ran him over, but Khabib was eating a lot of shots, he was really squared coming forward. I’ve said it many times I wasn’t too impressed with his performance.
“I’m going to go out there and put a whooping on (Barboza) much worse than that, much worse than Tony (Ferguson) gave him, and I think that’s what’s really going to shine through. Khabib beat him, I’m going to beat him in all aspects. Khabib, he did what he was going to do; if I go out there and do that, it’s going to be the same s**t.”
That said, Lee made it clear he respects Barboza, who has won 13 of 18 fights in his seven-plus years with the UFC. Though there were other opportunities on the table for Lee, it was Barboza who he sought to test himself against.
“I have to give it to Edson. I got offered a couple of fights, Edson’s always been one of the toughest fights in the division, I think he’s the top striker for sure. And he’s never lost two in a row,” Lee said. “So I think he’s going to come out and he’s going to be super hungry. I think I’m going to fight a much better version of Edson than fought Khabib and that kind of stuff, that excites me. That gets me up in the morning.
“I’m not one of these dudes that goes out there and looks for easy fights and I want an easy win coming back and just kind of get my feet wet or whatever. I want the toughest, hardest challenge that there is and I think Edson’s going to step up to the plate on this one. Just taking this fight against me shows that he’s ready to fight. I don’t think he’s going to go out there and just lay down.”
Lee, 25, saw a five-fight win streak come to an end last October when he was submitted in the third round of the UFC 216 main event in Brooklyn by Ferguson. That bout was for an interim title, and though he came up short, the championship opportunity gave Lee validation that he belonged with the best-of-the-best in the crowded lightweight division.
His physical tools and talents have never been in question, and Lee feels that Saturday will be the perfect showcase for how much he’s matured when it comes to the mental aspect of fighting.
“You hear it a lot, ‘Oh, it was the best weight cut’ and ‘Oh, I’m injury free’ and ‘Oh, I’m going through all this,’ with me it’s just about that experience,” Lee said. “I’ve already fought at the top level now, I’ve got that experience underneath my belt and I already feel like this is a fight between the two best athletes in the division and it’s going to be the person that can overcome mentally that’s going to win. Once my mental side catches up to my physical side, then there’s not a man that’s going to stop me.
“So that’s what I’m going to show during this fight is that the mental is there. I feel like I’ve already been one of the top athletes, it’s undeniable, but now I’ll be one of the most well-rounded once I bring that mental up to it.”