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Recovered from shoulder surgery, Edson Barboza wants a fight – but not just any fight


Considering Edson Barboza has had his sights set on an interim title shot for a while, one could certainly understand if watching UFC 216’s headliner is upsetting to him.

As it turns out, it’s not. In fact, Barboza (19-4 MMA, 13-4 UFC), who’s been vocally opposed to champ Conor McGregor’s (21-3 MMA, 9-1 UFC) inactive reign since claiming the 155-pound crown, is glad to see the division moving along.

And though it’s Tony Ferguson (22-3 MMA, 12-1 UFC) and Kevin Lee (16-2 MMA, 9-2 UFC) who are fighting for interim honors Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Barboza thinks he’s not too far from his own taste of gold.

“I know I’m close to the title shot,” Barboza told MMAjunkie. “I know I will get my chance.”

Yo, Edson Barboza – Mairbek Taisumov wants to know if you wanna fight

Not that Barboza didn’t try to get the interim title shot. In fact, coming off a huge TKO win over Beneil Dariush, Barboza said he tried to convince UFC President Dana White and matchmaker Sean Shelby to have him meet Ferguson for a stab at the interim belt.

The fight would have served as a rematch for a “Fight of the Night” encounter in late 2015 at The Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale, which saw Barboza being submitted after stepping in on short notice. But UFC officials didn’t go for it.

The reason, however, wasn’t that Barboza hadn’t earned it – but rather because they knew he was dealing with a seriously injured shoulder that needed medical attention. Considering Barboza went on to have surgery, that was probably the right call. Still, he not only wanted to move forward with it. He was quite confident, too.

“I know if I fought him with a bad shoulder, I’d win the fight,” Barboza said.

UFC 216’s Kevin Lee intends to prove he’s not ‘all talk’ against ‘weird dude’ Tony Ferguson

Sounds a bit crazy, but it’s not like Barboza hasn’t fought while hurt before. He went into his most recent scrap with the same injury – or rather, four different injuries on the same shoulder – that kept him from both the Ferguson encounter and a talked-about meeting with Justin Gaethje.

At UFC Fight Night 106, Barboza overcame a tough first round to finish Dariush with a knee in the second. But the “Performance of the Night” win looks all the more impressive knowing what the Brazilian lightweight went through prior to it.

“A couple of weeks before, I started feeling my neck a little bit, going down to my left shoulder,” Barboza recalled. “I still worked hard. I was sparring with my training partner. He shot, I defended a takedown, and I heard my shoulder kept, ‘Pop, pop, pop.’ Crazy, crazy pops.

“I have the video. I ran to my head coach, said, ‘Mark, my shoulder popped.’ He said, ‘OK, you want to stop?’ I said, ‘No, let’s finish the round.’ I did three more rounds with the one arm.’”

On the way home, Barboza started really feeling the effects of what turned out to be a tore bicep tendon and a broken piece of bone – among other things. For two weeks, he says, he didn’t punch or lift weights. He even considered, at first, pulling out of the fight.

UFC 216 headliner Tony Ferguson: ‘Fake’ Kevin Lee is ‘trying to be something that he’s not’

“But I’m a fighter, man,” Barboza said. “I love to fight. I try everything to fight.”

The decision paid off in the end, with Barboza adding a third win to a streak that features only respectable names like ex-champ Anthony Pettis and former Strikeforce titleholder Gilbert Melendez. But it also served as a huge test of Barboza’s grit.

“The first jab I threw, I said, ‘Man, that’s going to be a hard night,’” Barboza said. “Because it was so painful. The game plan (was) to throw a lot of the front hand, moving to my left side. And I couldn’t throw my left hand.

“That was the hardest fight of my career. Because I fought with one hand, very, very hard. And, like I said, Beneil is very tough. He gave me a hard time.”

After having surgery in Florida, Barboza says, he took six weeks off. Then, he started working “harder than ever” in physical therapy every day. The result was a recovery so swift that even his doctor marveled at it. Now, weeks after getting back to hard training, Barboza says he’s 100 percent pain-free and ready to go.

He’s even been calling his manager every day to get a fight. Not just any fight, though.

Edson Barboza

“I’m a fighter. I want to fight,” Barboza said. “But I’m not stupid. I want to fight somebody that really makes sense right now, get us a fight that put us closer to a title shot. Or on our way to get my chance to the title shot.

“Because I’m ready for this. I think I deserve it. I’ve been in the UFC for a long time. And I’m closer than ever to a title shot. I’m ready.”

Of course, Barboza is in the unfortunate position of being a UFC lightweight at a weird time. First, many wondered whether McGregor would ever return to MMA after his boxing match with Floyd Mayweather. And now, even if he comes back, there’s a chance McGregor won’t fight the division’s interim champ – but engage on a lucrative trilogy with Nate Diaz instead.

While Barboza can’t predict what will happen next, he knows one thing: After taking on two high-risk fights that ultimately did nothing to advance him in the rankings, he wants someone ahead of him.

“My last two fights, I fought somebody behind me in the rankings,” Barboza said. “Very risky fights, very dangerous guys. But I was there fighting. I don’t care. I’ve improved all the time. I have almost 20 fights in the UFC. A couple of weeks ago, I saw the rankings. I fought seven guys in the top-15.

“I fought everybody. I think I deserve it. I really deserve to fight the No. 1 contender, or somebody in front of me. Or a title shot.”

Considering Barboza is currently ranked No. 4 in the official UFC rankings – and No. 6 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA lightweight rankings – that doesn’t leave him too many options. Mairbek Taisumov. for instance, might just have to wait.

However, there is one man who not only fits the bill in both rankings, but doesn’t have a fight scheduled: undefeated, perennial contender Khabib Nurmagomedov (24-0 MMA, 8-0 UFC).

Some might see the Dagestani’s notoriously stifling wrestling game as a hazard to Barboza’s mostly striking-based movement. But the Brazilian, who’s quite into the matchup, isn’t fazed.

Kevin Lee: Tony Ferguson’s toughness just means he’ll ‘take a longer ass-whooping’ at UFC 216

“He’s definitely one of the best in the division,” Barboza said. “I think this fight really makes sense for me. I’m ready. If the UFC books this fight, I’m ready.”

Of course, Barboza’s future also hinges on what happens with Saturday’s headliner. Although Nurmagomedov’s name is the one that most would point to as the next contender, the fact he’s been somewhat M.I.A. and even turned down a UFC 217 meeting with Ferguson could work in Barboza’s favor. Then there’s the chance McGregor fights Diaz.

Barboza is clear about wanting a title shot. But considering he doesn’t really see McGregor as the champion, he would have no problems meeting the division’s interim titleholder instead.

“That would be perfect,” Barboza said. “Like I said, if the UFC asks me to fight for the belt, for the real championship, I’d prefer to fight one of those guys. Because, like I said, McGregor for me is not the champion. He has the belt, but he’s not really the champ.”

If he does get his wish, and the interim champion is indeed next for him, Barboza believes that might just end up being a rematch.

“It’s going to be a fun fight,” Barboza said. “I think Tony Ferguson is going to win this fight. It’s hard to say that (Kevin Lee) doesn’t deserve it. He’s a great fighter, but he won just a couple of fights. Just his last fight, against (Michael) Chiesa, who’s a tough guy. But he fought nobody.

“I think Tony Ferguson is going to dominate this fight.”

For more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.



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