Edson Barboza is “very happy” to once again headline a UFC card and potentially move one step closer to a shot at the featherweight championship with a win over rising 145-pounder Giga Chikadze at UFC Vegas 35 this Saturday.
Barboza has looked incredible at featherweight (he is currently ranked No. 9 in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings), dominating Shane Burgos and Makwan Amirkhani since a controversial split decision defeat to Dan Ige in his debut. Barboza hopes it turns into a five-round stand-up war with Chikadze (No. 12), who is 6-0 in the UFC with a devastating 63-second knockout over veteran Cub Swanson.
“He’s an excellent striker,” Barboza said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “Let’s see how great he is in the striking area. That’s the type of opponent I like to fight, guys that really want to come and try to get me [laughs]. I have no doubt he’s coming forward, he’ll expose himself a lot, and that will give me plenty of chances. It’s going to be a good brawl, brother. I’m sure we’ll break each other.”
Barboza has faced a long list of dangerous strikers in over a decade as a UFC fighter, but hopes that “Ninja” Chikadze—a protege under Kings MMA’s Rafael Cordeiro—decides to stay on the feet against him.
“It’s funny that every striker I’ve fought before in the UFC tried to take me down,” Barboza said. “But it’s a MMA fight, right, brother? I know I have to be prepared in all areas because it’s a MMA fight but I hope he comes in for a fight.”
The American Top Team product called out Max Holloway, Calvin Kattar, “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sun Jung, and Yair Rodriguez after his knockout over Burgos in May, but was paired up with Chikadze instead.
“We always want to face someone ranked ahead of us,” Barboza said. “But this fight definitely gets me excited because of his fighting style and the fact the UFC has given me a main event spot. That makes a difference. Winning this fight will undoubtedly push me forward and get me close to my goal of becoming featherweight champion. I’m very excited and I know it’s going to be a great fight.”
“It’s definitely different from a three-round fight or a preliminary fight,” Barboza said. “It’s different, but mainly the psychological part. I’ve learned from those two main events I had that it’s more about my head. It’s not an excuse, but I think I’m mentally stronger now, better prepared for five rounds.”
“Training is different because you have to do 10 more minutes of brawling,” he continued. “You see most people getting tired doing three rounds, imagine doing two more? Training is very hard, and that’s where the mental part comes in. It’s easier than I imagined now.”
Barboza usually spars four rounds a time when he’s booked for 15-minute bouts in the UFC, and credits his mental coach Lincoln Nunes for the way he’s performed versus Amirkhani and Burgos.
“It’s funny because when we’re doing a five-round fight we think ‘it’s just an extra round, you can do five rounds easily,’” Barboza said of his sparring sessions. “But when you’re booked for a five-round fight and gets four rounds done in the gym you think ‘f*ck, man, there’s still one more to go.’ [laughs] That’s when the mental part comes in. The body is ready for 10 rounds, easy, but the mind must come together.”
No one has been able to crack Chikadze so far in the UFC, with the former GLORY star winning four decisions and scoring two knockouts inside the octagon.
That said, Barboza predicts a great night for American Top Team at the UFC APEX.
“He’s also a striker and we know the fight can end at any moment,” Barboza said. “I’m ready to fight 25 minutes, man. 25 minutes of war and beatdown, but this fight will be over early if he gives me one chance. Winning this battle will push me towards the top-5 and I might just need one more fight [to earn a title shot].”