Eyeing March return, Edson Barboza reflects on tough loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov

Sure, the loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov was a tough one. But Edson Barboza is not planning on stewing on it for too long.

Barboza (19-5 MMA, 13-5 UFC) met Nurmagomedov (25-0 MMA, 9-0 UFC) at UC 219’s co-headliner on Dec. 30 looking for a win that was likely to stamp his ticket to a lightweight title shot. Instead, despite hanging tough, the Brazilian striker suffered a crushing defeat that translated to 30-25, 30-25 and 30-24 scorecards.

Not even two weeks later, no one would fault Barboza for needing at least some time to lick his wounds. Instead, the lightweight is already back in the gym and preparing to come back.

“I didn’t even take any medicine after the fight,” Barboza told MMAjunkie. “I have no injuries and no doubt I want to be back as soon as possible.”

How soon, you ask?

“Mid-March, the end of March, that would be very cool,” Barboza said. (via Instagram)

Instagram Photo

Quick turnarounds after losses are not entirely unusual. While some fighters like to take some time for soul-searching or even complete career reassessments after difficult losses, some just simply can’t wait to replace the negative octagon memories with good ones.

Barboza’s case, however, seems to be neither. He’s simply got “a very good head” right now and, as such, hasn’t lost his drive because of his setback. He wants to take the lessons learned to keep training and improving – as a result, he’s that much more motivated to fight.

But that’s not to say he’s fine with what happened or satisfied with his performance.

“It was tough,” Barboza said. “I’m still digesting it. I have a very good head, but I wasn’t expecting to lose – especially the way it was. I really wasn’t. I was very well-trained. My coaches did everything right. It was me, in the moment of the fight, who wasn’t able to … I fell into his game.

“I spent 15 minutes in his game. That was the whole problem. My coaches, they all did everything right. They had the right game plan. But I couldn’t. It was hard. It was hard, but in a good way. I’m trying to transform that hardship, that sadness the loss gave me, into hunger. I’m very hungry.”

Many have stood where Barboza stands now, on the bad end of Nurmagomedov’s stifling game. In fact, not only has Nurmagomedov never lost an MMA fight, he never so much has lost in the eyes of a single judge. It’s no wonder he’s been dubbed “the most terrifying lightweight contender” by Joe Rogan.

Barboza was coming off a three-fight winning streak over former UFC and WEC champion Anthony Pettis, former Strikeforce champ Gilbert Melendez and Beneil Dariush. He’s not exactly a pushover in the cage. And yet, there was very little he could do against the undefeated contender.

Barboza has reviewed the tape and the verdict is simple: he played Nurmagomedov’s game and all credit goes to his opponent for that. Still, the Brazilian won’t go so far as to say that he is unbeatable.

“I couldn’t impose my game,” Barboza said. “I’m a fighter – if they offered me a fight against him tomorrow, I’d take it again for sure. I’d train and give it my best so that what happened in our last fight didn’t happen again. He does have various holes. But he’s able to get people to play into his game. And that’s the problem. That’s what happened to me. …

“It’s something I almost always do, too, getting them to play my game. But this time I couldn’t. It’s a fight. It’s a chess game. Sometimes the pieces go together and sometimes they don’t. In this last fight, the pieces didn’t. That’s his merit.”

Now, on to the future – for both Barboza and the division.

Barboza has never been particularly interested in callouts and he’s not about to start now. He would like, however, to fight someone that’s at least close to him in the official UFC rankings – with the exception of former 155-pound champion Eddie Alvarez, who’s his friend and training partner.

“But anyone else who’s closest, above me in the ranking, I’ll fight,” Barboza said. “There’s (Justin) Gaethje, there’s (Kevin) Lee, there are some people there. So whomever’s around, I’ll fight, for sure.”

The future of the man that beat Barboza at UFC 219, it turns out, isn’t much clearer than his own. While Nurmagomedov is now undeniably the No.1 contender, that doesn’t define the title fight in a division that now has both an undisputed champ in Conor McGregor and an interim one in Tony Ferguson.

The logical choice would be a title-unifier between McGregor and Ferguson, but McGregor has offered no timeline for his cage return – or even confirmation that return will ever happen. And that means Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson may very well be next.

Barboza, like the rest of us, can’t tell what will happen with that. But, as someone who’s always made his thoughts on McGregor crystal clear, he nows what he would like to see happening.

“I don’t know whether (McGregor) will be back, and I don’t even want to know,” Barboza said. “The fight that has to happen is Khabib vs. Ferguson. It would be great fight. I, honestly, sometimes don’t stay up to watch fights because they happen too late.

“This is the type of fight that I would stay up to watch. Because it’s a very interesting fight. I believe either of them has equal chances of winning, it’s 50/50. It would be a fun fight for us watching.”

As for his own title aspirations? Obviously, they’ve been pushed back a bit. But Barboza doesn’t believe they’re out of sight just yet.

“I’m still very close,” Barboza said. “If you look at the rankings, I’m still No. 4. There are only three guys ahead of me. So, I think this will only postpone my arrival to the belt. I’m very close. I promise I’ll get some wins next to have my shot. To keep knocking at the door.”

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

Filed under: Featured, News, UFC

Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie

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