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PFL’s Lucas Barbosa: Grappling wins over Gilbert Burns, Rafael Lovato give confidence ahead of MMA return

Lucas Barbosa
Cooper Neill, PFL

Lucas Barbosa had a 2-1 record in MMA when he decided to change things up and focus full-time in jiu-jitsu in 2012. After collecting dozens of major titles over the past decade, “Hulk” felt it was time to go back to the cage.

Set to headline Friday’s PFL Challenger Series in Orlando against Itso Babulaidze, Barbosa said on a recent episode of MMA Fighting podcast Trocação Franca that it took him a couple of weeks to get used to get punched in the face again, but now feels at home.

“I felt kind of lost at first, had no timing, but after the first week you start to enjoy already,” Barbosa said with a laugh. “I like to trade punches. I felt more comfortably doing so after the first week.”

Barbosa has beaten great grapplers in recent years like Leandro Lo, Yuri Simoes, Alan Finfou, Romulo Barral and Dillon Danis, but has also defeated high-level MMA fighters who had tried their luck in grappling tournaments, such as Gilbert Burns, Rafael Lovato Jr. and Vinny Magalhaes, plus a draw with Fabricio Werdum.

“I believe that my jiu-jitsu level could be higher but I think it’s completely different when you mix everything in MMA,” Barbosa said. “You have punches and the distance, the right moment to shoot. I fought ‘Durinho’ but he was training with MMA guys. Even through he trained with [Roberto Abreu] ‘Cyborg’, it’s different when you’re focused on doing jiu-jitsu every day.

“I won’t say I’m superior because they’re way better than me in MMA, but it gives me some confidence knowing I was able to gain positions [against them], that I have an updated grappling game against MMA people like them. I think I’ll do well against anyone in MMA if I have the opportunity to take them down.”

Barbosa will face 2-0 welterweight Babulaidze at the Universal Studios in Orlando, and said MMA fighters are more complicated to grapple than the ones he’s used to facing in the jiu-jitsu circuit. That said, “Hulk” had plenty of confidence going into this new chapter of his combat sports career.

“‘Durinho’ kept doing jiu-jitsu when he transitioned to MMA and I wanna follow his footsteps,” he said. “It’s an accomplishment I want, to build my name in MMA after doing so in jiu-jitsu. Money comes automatically when you become good at what you’re doing but it’s not about money, it’s about a personal desire to win a belt, to become world champion in a major organization like the PFL.”

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