RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Jose Aldo defended his UFC featherweight throne against Frankie Edgar more than six years ago at UFC 156, and that trip to Las Vegas was unforgettable not only for the Brazilian star, but even more so for a promising athlete named Raoni Barcelos.
Barcelos has been viewed as a MMA prospect ever since his professional debut in 2012. The son of jiu-jitsu master Larte Barcelos and a protege of Pedro Rizzo, Barcelos collected jiu-jitsu medals since an early age in Brazil before making the transition to MMA.
With a high level of wrestling acumen, especially when compared to many of his fellow Brazilians who don’t have much of a wrestling base before fighting MMA, Barcelos was invited by Aldo to be part of his camp for the first Edgar fight. After months of training, Barcelos flew to Las Vegas to watch Aldo stop Edgar’s takedowns and defend the 145-pound crown.
Six years later, Barcelos is now 2-0 in the Octagon and moments away from fighting on Brazilian soil for the first time as a UFC product when he takes on late-notice replacement Carlos Huachin at UFC 237.
”I’m really excited to be fighting at home in Rio,” Barcelos told MMA Fighting. “It’s been a while since my last fight in Brazil, especially here in Rio, so I’m even more motivated to be fighting here — and to be with renowned fighters like Jose Aldo, ‘Minotouro’ (Nogueira), Anderson Silva, guys I used to watch on TV. I looked up to them, especially Jose Aldo, and to be fighting on the same card as them and feel that same energy, that will be sensational.”
Barcelos was just 5-0 as a professional fighter when he watched Aldo beat Edgar in Las Vegas, but being there in person and watching fellow Brazilians like Demian Maia, Antonio Silva, and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira win that night convinced him he was on the right path.
”I was front row, with Dana (White) sitting on one side and Chuck Liddell on the other side,” he said, “and I’m watching everything a few feet away from the cage. That made me believe. That made me want to become one of the best. If God permits, I’ll be able to do that to other athletes that are helping me today. That was truly important for me. That made the difference, and I’m thankful to them for everything they’ve done for me. I’ll never forget that.
”It’s like I’m watching a movie inside my head because I was a spectator then, and now I’m a fighter,” he continued. “I was talking to my father and Pedro about it when I made my UFC debut. It’s so crazy. I was sitting there as a fan and now I’m fighting, getting to show my work. It’s incredible.”
Barcelos, who was also a crucial part of Glover Teixeira’s pre-UFC camps in Rio de Janeiro, is even more blown away by being on the undercard of an Aldo fight.
”The UFC felt like a distant dream for me, and he showed me the way,” Barcelos said. “He gave me the opportunity to be there with me backstage, and that’s a lot for someone who’s just starting his career. I’m thankful for everything he taught me. I gave my all to help him any way I could — and I’d do it again if he needs me — so I’m happy to be around great names while I conquer my space in the UFC.
“[To be in the UFC] didn’t even cross my mind at the time, and now it’s a dream I’ve accomplished. I’m going after my biggest dream now, which is to become the bantamweight champion.”
Barcelos’ original opponent at UFC 237 was Said Nurmagomedov. However, according to the Brazilian bantamweight, Nurmagomedov pulled out of the card without “any concrete reason or injury.” The UFC was quick to find a replacement in Huachin, who makes his Octagon debut after racking up a 10-3-2 record competing mostly around South America.
”My new opponent is from Peru, he’s coming off a few wins, has some knockouts, and is a dangerous southpaw, but my focus remains the same,” Barcelos said. “Nothing changes. My goal is the same. I’ll respect him the same way I respected Said, but I’m going for the finish.”