Edson Barboza’s move to featherweight is not a one-time trial to see how he feels. One of the top-ranked lightweights in the UFC for many years, the Brazilian is going after the 145-pound gold.
Barboza announced his decision to drop a weight class in late 2019, and his debut will finally go down when he faces Dan Ige at Saturday’s UFC on ESPN 8 card in Jacksonville, Fla.
Barboza was briefly linked to a fight with Josh Emmett that never came to fruition, but doesn’t see much different between Emmett and Ige “because they are both excellent athletes.”
“This kid is ranked in the top-15 and is coming off a bunch of wins in the UFC, so it’s gonna be great to test myself against one of the best,” Barboza told MMA Fighting. “He’s tough, he doesn’t give up, brawls it out, so he’s a great fighter. It’s gonna be a great fight, for sure.”
Barboza came close to challenging for the UFC lightweight throne after beating Anthony Pettis, Gilbert Melendez and Beneil Dariush from 2016 and 2017, but then lost back-to-back fights to future champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and Kevin Lee.
The main reason why Barboza is moving to 145 pounds is to “challenge myself,” he said. The other one? The path to the UFC belt seems shorter at the division currently ruled by Alexander Volkanovski compared to a weight class that has an undisputed king in Nurmagomedov and an interim titleholder in Gaethje.
“I fought pretty much everyone in the weight class above and was always fighting people ranked behind me,” Barboza said. “I wanted to, I don’t know, a new challenge. It was getting boring (at lightweight), to keep fighting people ranked behind me. I didn’t move up with a win and kept coming down with a loss. It was getting boring, I wanted new motivation. This is the new motivation, to switch weight classes.”
Preparing for a fight during the coronavirus pandemic affected “absolutely nothing” for Barboza in terms of training, he says, since American Top Team managed to secure a special schedule to guarantee training sessions for UFC athletes who had fights booked.
But how about cutting an extra 10 pounds for the first time in his MMA career during a global health crisis? The 34-year-old Rio de Janeiro native says he realized that the weight drop was feasible after doing “illogical math” in his head: he walked around 175-180 pounds before starting his camp for lightweight, so he simply changed his diet to start his UFC on ESPN 8 camp at 165-170 pounds.
“It’s a bit illogical, but I’m feeling great,” Barboza said two weeks before the fight. “Weight is coming down and I think I’ll make weight without big problems.”
“It’s a complicated switch,” he continued. “Many people going up in weight and I decided to go down, but I prepared psychologically for this and I won’t have much trouble making weight.”
The official weigh-ins are set for Friday morning, and Barboza is confident he’ll hit the target for his new division. According to a member of his team, Barboza weighed 153.6 pounds as of Wednesday.
“It’s not a test,” he said of going down to featherweight. “When I decided to go down in weight I said this is the weight class I’m doing my next fights. This is the division I want to fight now.”
Ige, 13-2 as a professional mixed martial artist and five years younger than the Brazilian, enters the octagon riding a five-fight winning streak capped off by a decision over Mirsad Bektic. For Barboza, three wins against the right opponents could catapult him into a title shot.
“That’s one of the goals I had when I went down,” Barboza said. “This division is not as jammed because people actually fight, especially the champion. The 155 division is jammed because most of the time the champion doesn’t fight. I have a history in the UFC, and a good debut and a good win in my next fight, I can get a top-5 and have my chance for the belt too.”