Nothing pains a warrior more at the end of a fight than a sardonic smile on his opponent's face which shows him that he lost and inadvertently took a telling blow to his egoist character. His conqueror's raised hands tell their own story, the story of dominance, of his power and achievement and how he put all that nonsense talk to the bed which was inconsequential as far as the final result was concerned. He has no choice but to look at his face and bear that smile. The absence of any scar on his rival’s face humiliates him further and indicate that he was not only defeated but perhaps he got the beating of his life and thus left cringed on his knees with the smell of his burned ego playing tricks in his mind.
It was that kind of sight for Edson Barboza on December 30, 2017, at UFC 219, where at the end of three rounds, Khabib Nurmagomedov was standing taller than his 1.78 m height. For sure the way “The Eagle” performed that night, where he dominated all the aspects of the fight and humiliated Barboza with ground and pound, certainly added few cm to his height. The victory and the confidence that came from it was also the critical factor. He won the fight by unanimous decision. This win also earned him his first Performance of the Night bonus.
In his first interview since UFC 219, Barboza opened up about what went wrong inside the T-Mobile Arena.
”I really didn’t expect that to happen, man,” Barboza told MMA Fighting. “I was very upset the week after the fight because I was well prepared, had a wonderful camp. It was a tough loss, no doubt about it.”
”It was pretty much how we imagined it,” he continued. “I knew he wouldn’t take me down in the middle of the Octagon. I knew that his only chance to take me down was close to the fence, so I obviously worked that a lot, but he was able to impose his game, and I couldn’t get out of there. That was the problem. I fell in his game, I spent 15 minutes doing his game.”
The only thing that really surprised Barboza was Nurmagomedov rushing forward and closing the distance as soon as the round started, not giving him any room to set up his devastating kicks and knees.
”Honestly, I didn’t expect that,” Barboza admits. “He walked backward in all of his previous fights before he went for takedowns. I was prepared for it, but I thought he would do what he always did, to avoid the striking. It surprised me that he moved forward.”
All three judges gave Nurmagomedov a 10-8 in both of the first two rounds, but Barboza says he was still confident that he only needed one perfect shot to stop the Dagestani lightweight.
”I was aware of what was happening the entire time, and I believed it until the end,” the Brazilian said. “Things were going wrong but I kept thinking, ‘Brother, if he gives me a chance I’ll finish the fight.’ I remember everything that happened that night.”
Barboza was confident that he could still defeat Nurmagomedov in the third round, and he would have been really pissed if his cornermen had thrown in the towel at any moment of the fight.
”If my corners had stopped the fight, I probably would have fought them all,” he said. “They know me really well, they know what I can handle. I’ve trained with millions of different people, the best boxers in New Jersey and Philadelphia, and they never knocked me down. They know me, they know what I can take, and they knew I could win at any moment.”
Less than two weeks after a painful defeat in Las Vegas, Barboza is already back in the gym to train and “ready to start a new camp.”
”I’m already training hard,” said Barboza, who will help his teammate Frankie Edgar prepare for a UFC 222 title fight with Max Holloway on March 3. “I want to fight.”
The Brazilian striker is not the type of fighter that calls out or picks opponents for his future. He will take on anyone in the top 10, except his training partner Eddie Alvarez.
”I’m still among the best in the rankings, so I want to fight someone as close as possible to me,” Barboza said. “The dream continues. I want my chance for the belt, I want to be champion. The only way I’ll get there is by taking down these guys close to me in the ranking.”