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MMA fighter Leonardo Barbosa says he ‘threw a fight’ after being threatened by gunman in Afghanistan

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Leonardo Barbosa (left) lost via second-round TKO to Ahmed Wali Hotak in Kabul, Afghanistan
Photo via Leonardo Barbosa

The world of combat sports is no stranger to allegations of fighters taking a dive, but something like that rarely gets proven. Leonardo Barbosa admits he threw his fight against Ahmed Wali Hotak in the main event of TGFC 11 in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Feb. 11.

The finishing sequence was featured in last week’s edition of Missed Fists after Twitter user Caposa spotted the scene online.

Barbosa took to social media afterwards to confirm he lost on purpose, saying he felt threatened by a gunman. The post has since been set private after receiving several messages from “aggressive” Afghan people calling him a “liar,” he said, but Barbosa spoke with MMA Fighting on Friday to reveal more details.

The lightweight fighter said he signed a four-fight deal with the company after winning 13 of his previous 15 bouts on the Brazilian regional circuit dating back to 2012, and was very complimentary of the promotion’s structure up until fight night, when “fans entered the locker room to celebrate with the winning fighters.”

According to Barbosa, a man entered his locker room that evening and “started screaming things” in his native language. Barbosa couldn’t understand a word he was saying. He did understand the message, however, when this man allegedly showed him he was carrying a gun. The Brazilian said he later spotted that main “in the VIP area during the fight, real close to the cage.”

“He kept screaming, extremely aggressive,” he said. “He got closer to the cage in between rounds and started saying something similar to what he had said in the locker room, only more aggressive. I was winning the fight, I won the first round well, my opponent had a broken nose and needed surgery the next day, and I think I would have won, but I felt unable to do anything in that fight.”

Barbosa flew from Brazil to Afghanistan by himself since his manager, the only person that would accompany him on this trip, tested positive for COVID-19 a day before they were scheduled to leave the country. Barbosa only had an Iranian man in his corner, a person he met during this trip.

“And then that happened. I threw the fight,” he admits. “I came back different for the second round, a series of things were going through my mind. I have a son, I have a family. Him killing me wasn’t my biggest fear because the repercussion would be huge, but, I don’t know, people there are a bit complicated. It’s complicated, really. That region is still at war, there are terrorist attacks going on and people is kind of used to that now. A car exploded while I was there and they simply isolated the street, the army put a detour to another street and that’s it.”

TGFC CEO Abdul Wasi Sharifi told MMA Fighting that “Leonardo never told me about [gunman] when we reached to [the] hotel and before the arena. Never talked me so today I heard this story and we agree to rematch the event soon in Dubai. He said that there was not fault of his opponent, hotel and promotion.”

Barbosa’s “biggest fear” during that entire situation, he said, was being hospitalized or ending up in jail. The 32-year-old says his passport was kept by the immigration as he landed in the airport in Kabul, and was only returned after he checked-in for his return flight.

“I had no documents in an unfamiliar country,” he said. “I never thought I’d go through a situation like this and I hope never to go through again. My biggest fear was something happening and getting trapped there. I would do something to fight back and defend my life, right? I don’t know their laws. The first thing that came to my head was the fear of not being able to leave that place, of being arrested for some reason or going to a hospital without my documents, only the immigration paper.”

Barbosa said he took a dive in the fight and fans stormed into the cage. Promotion officials immediately drove him back to the hotel and he never saw the gunman again. Barbosa landed in Brazil after a long flight back that included a 24-hour stop in Istanbul, where he refused to leave the airport because that’s the only place he felt “safe.”

The 26-fight lightweight veteran said he was officially offered a rematch by TGFC officials for a May event in Dubai, and is willing to accept.

“I’d go with a different structure this time, with my cornermen and everything else,” Barbosa said. “I’ll never travel again without my cornermen.”

“This rematch will be different,” he added. “I believe I can win this fight with ease, to tell you the truth.”