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COCONUT CREEK, Fla. – Edson Barboza will be prepared to go the distance with Justin Gaethje if need-be, but he believes his more diverse striking game gives him the opportunity to finish the fight in a variety of ways.
Barboza (20-6 MMA, 14-6 UFC) will meet Gaethje (19-2 MMA, 2-2 UFC) in Saturday’s UFC on ESPN 2 headliner in a crucial bout for the lightweight division. The matchup has been touted as having “Fight of the Year” potential from the moment it was announced, and Barboza said he’s preparing for all possibilities.
“I was very happy because I want the best in the world, and that’s a good feeling for me,” Barboza on Monday told MMA Junkie. “If you see my last couple opponents, I fought against the best guys in the world. I’m one of the best guys in the world. That’s a good feeling. I love my job.
“It’s a main event. I train for a 25-minute war. That’s what I’m ready for. I train so hard for this fight, and I’m ready for a 25-minute war.”
Barboza and Gaethje are both known for their devastating knockout capabilities, but the Brazilian believes he has more tools. Gaethje’s hands and leg kicks have led to the majority of his finishes, but Barboza is the only fighter in UFC history to have stoppages stemming from a head kick, body punch, body kick, leg kicks, and flying knee.
For that reason, Barboza thinks he holds the advantage standing up.
“Definitely (my striking is better),” Barboza said. “I have knockout with a punch, with a body kick, low kick, head kick, spinning back kick, knees – on paper I’m definitely the most dangerous striker in the UFC.”
After a pair of crushing losses to Khabib Nurmagomedov and Kevin Lee, Barboza opted to switch gyms to American Top Team. He immediately rebounded, scoring a nasty knockout of Dan Hooker at UFC on FOX 31 to set him up for the matchup with Gaethje.
Barboza said he was never deflated during the only losing skid of his career, but proving he’s still capable of beating ranked opponents like he did against Hooker definitely provided a lift going into the encounter with Gaethje.
“Sometimes it’s a loss, sometimes it’s a win, but my confidence always 100 percent,” Barboza said. “Sometimes I lose, and my next fight I was back 100 percent with my confidence. It doesn’t matter if I win, if I lose – my confidence is always there. For this fight I’m 100 percent confident I’m ready to go. … I know if I go in there, I give my best, I will win this fight. I don’t worry much about this opponent.”
UFC on ESPN 2 takes place at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. The card airs on ESPN following early prelims on ESPN+.
The lightweight division is in a bit of a weird state with champion Nurmagomedov unlikely to return until late this year and Dustin Poirier set to fight featherweight champ Max Holloway for the interim belt next month at UFC 236.
Barboza, No. 6 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie MMA lightweight rankings, doesn’t envision a title shot by beating No. 9 Gaethje. However, he doesn’t think it puts him far off, either.
“If I win this fight it will put me close to the title shot, very close,” Barboza said. “The division is a little busy right now, but Dustin will fight for the title and win this fight, and hopefully bring this belt for the gym, for the team, for ATT. My next step is to fight with Gaethje. I’ll beat him, and if I win this fight let’s see what happens.”
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