Why UFC 237's Raoni Barcelos 'really wanted' upcoming fight vs. Said Nurmagomedov

For the average UFC fan who’s not in tune with the Brazilian market, the name Raoni Barcelos might not immediately ring a bell.

A lifelong competitor born to a jiu-jitsu master, Barcelos has long been a fixture on prospects-to-watch lists. As he patiently waited for the UFC to call, holding an 11-1 record and RFA’s featherweight belt, he already counted on the enthusiastic endorsement of legends like Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Jose Aldo.

Now, two fights – and two finish wins – into his octagon career, Barcelos scored a much-wanted opportunity to compete in his hometown of Rio de Janeiro. Other than performing in front of his family and friends at UFC 237, he’ll get do it alongside Aldo, Nogueira’s twin brother “Lil Nog” and Anderson Silva.

So you could say Barcelos is pretty happy with how things are going.

“It will be incredible for me to get to spend the week with them,” Barcelos recently told MMA Junkie in his native Portuguese. “And to share the energy in the same cage, in the same event.

“…I’m happy. I’m very happy. Because every athlete, they work so that one day their work will be recognized. And now I’m starting to see that my work is being recognized.”

Barcelos last fought in November, when he finished Chris Gutierrez in the second round of their The Ultimate Fighter 28 Finale encounter. The bout was Barcelos’ first time competing as a bantamweight, but right away the former RFA champ made it clear the move would be permanent.

Barcelos’ push for a home country fight began immediately, as he set his sights on a spot at the UFC on ESPN+ 2 card in Fortaleza. That gnarly cut above his eye would prove to be a problem, though; despite Barcelos’ smooth recovery, he did require quite a few stitches – 10 or 15, he can’t say for sure – and had a medical suspension to deal with.

“So we tried every way to fight in Rio, and thank God we were able to get it,” Barcelos said.

Barcelos’ (13-1 MMA, 2-0 UFC) homecoming after more than five years, however, comes with a pretty tall order. He’ll be looking to snap Said Nurmagomedov’s (13-1 MMA, 2-0 UFC) seven-fight winning streak, which most recently featured a first-round finish of 135-pound up-and-comer Ricardo Ramos on Brazilian soil.

As Barcelos observes, he and his opponent carry virtually identical records. Not only do they have the same number of professional MMA fights, they’re both two wins into their fledgling UFC careers. Both men have suffered their single career losses in 2014.

On paper, it’s a fight that makes sense for Barcelos. But, at the same time, facing a dangerous, yet under-the-radar foe also means taking on a risk without the obvious immediate reward of a name boost.

That, however, does not factor into Barcelos’ math.

“It’s like my dad, master Laerte Barcelos, always says: ‘You always have to fight the best. In order to be the best, you have to beat the best.’” Barcelos said. “So let the best come. I want to prove myself. If it’s Said now, I’ll give it 100 percent to come out victorious of this fight. And then, after this one, let other fighters come until I can get to where I want to get.”

Not only was it “a fight that I really wanted,” it was also one that Barcelos already expected. He says the two were linked to a fight last December at UFC Adelaide, but that a few weeks before the event Nurmagomedov had to pull out due to injury. That’s when Barcelos was paired with Gutierrez and moved to Las Vegas.

Nurmagomedov had also recently competed in Brazil, which is helpful when it comes to the visa bureaucracy, which meant Barcelos’ team was prepared to find his name on the other end of the contract. And they already had a strategy mapped out when it did.

“He has a very skilled game when it comes to his legs, kicks, spinning strikes with his hands and legs,” Barcelos said. “He has good wrestling, good jiu-jitsu. But I have to fight moving forward. I can’t give him space, because if I do he’ll do whatever he wants with me. So that’s what we’re training. To move forward, to hit hard. And to work my wrestling, too, because I have that. And he has jiu-jitsu, too. And then we’ll see where the fight goes.”

Considering where both stand, Barcelos believes a win over Nurmagomedov will help put him on the radar and really show what he’s come into the UFC to do. And that, we know, is being champion.

In the meantime, Barcelos is happy with where his career is and the opportunities he’s been getting to showcase the fruits of his labor.

“I’m the type of athlete who doesn’t like to say that they’re this or that, like so many do,” Barcelos said. “I like to show it in there. Each fight is a fight – I learned a lot from the last one, and this will be an entirely different one, in which I can progress and show that I can really be champion of the division one day.

“I’m happy that there are people who follow my career, who put their hope in me, who say, ‘You’ll make it. You’ll get there. I believe in you.’ That makes me happy. I hope to one day be able to live up to these big expectations and do well so they can keep rooting and can stay by my side for a long time.”

For more on UFC 237, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie

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