Edson Barboza turns back the clock
Saturday night’s UFC headliner was a special moment for Edson Barboza. He moved into the record books for Fight of the Night bonuses (at least until the next Justin Gaethje fight), and held back Father Time with an exceptional showing of composure under pressure from an aggressive younger fighter in Sodiq Yusuff. I’ve been keen on Yusuff ever since he sniped Gabriel Benitez in 2019 and was very happy to see him headline a card versus Barbosa.
Before round one was halfway over I thought there was no way this fight went to a decision, and as round two started I thought there was no way Edson Barboza would emerge victorious. But the old man gritted his teeth, walked to the center of the octagon and steadily worked his way back into the fight.
Throughout the fight Edson Barboza fought like a veteran, eschewing home run swings for body work and as each minute ticked by the investment paid off. Yusuff steadily slowed down until Barboza was able to clip the younger fighter with his signature wheel kick. That was the moment the fight truly slipped through Yusuff’s fingers. The delayed response knockdown was reminiscent of Barboza’s knockout of Shane Burgos and no less dramatic. Only the fatigue that was drowning both men after 20 minutes of mutual bludgeoning saved Yusuff from a TKO stoppage.
It was a delight then in the fifth round to see Edson Barboza get a trip takedown and top control to secure the final round. For a man whose career is littered with inidvidual strikes, this fight was a marathon in comparison and all the more admirable.
UFC’s next great bantamweight?
Jonathan Martinez has been a slow burn. A UFC roster member since 2018, his breakout performance was almost exactly one year ago against Cub Swanson, chopping the beloved fighter down for his first leg kick TKO win. That performance netted him the unenviable ‘reward’ of facing Said Nurmagomedov earlier this year on the March 11th, Yan vs Dvalishvili card. Even though he didn’t win a performance bonus, I contend (debate me!) that it was one of the best fights of 2023. Go back and let me know what you think.
I’m a little irked that after the Swanson win, Martinez fought in front of crickets on an Apex card while Nurmagomedov is fighting next week at UFC 294 as the PPV curtain jerker against… Muin Gafurov? Bantamweight is in the midst of a renaissance, the best division in the UFC at the moment, and while there are a number of contenders jockeying for the next title shot Martinez deserves a crack at the Top 10. Pedro Munhoz, Ricky Simon, and Song Yadong are all viable matchups for the leg kick master.
Logan Paul vs Dillon Danis, Arenas vs Apex
Edson Barboza put on the performance of a lifetime on Saturday night before a paltry audience of Apex fans, while Dillon Danis made a mockery of combat sports in a sold out Manchester Arena. The media attention and general fanfare was inversely related to the quality of martial arts displayed in two vastly different organizations, who are nevertheless seeking a similar audience. Content creators and consumers, influencers and Stans, these are the young men with disposable incomes that every sports entertainment organization covets.
For all my personal issues with the UFC’s revenue split, onerous contracts, and otherwise scumbagism (trademark, Dana White) they are the organization I look to for elite fights. However, I don’t enjoy the best fights in a sparsely populated warehouse.
I don’t like the Apex, and I feel it steals opportunity from the fighters.
The novelty of the ability to hear cornermen and every strike land has faded. For all its uniqueness in the sport landscape, Mixed Martial Arts is still a spectator sport and those people in the stands are a part of the event. They inject relevance into great moments, and they elevate the emotional content in a fight like Barbosa vs. Yusuff.
Consider a classic UFC fights: Shogun vs Henderson 1. It was just a Fight Night headliner, but sticks in our minds as an all time great not just because of the performances of both men but because of the excitement that we felt in the moment. We were witnessing greatness, the crown knew it and there was a tension in the audience as Shogun battled back from an H-bomb, secured mount in the fifth round and desperately tried to finish Hendo while the crowd screamed in recognition that he just might do it.
None of that was present for Edson Barboza on Saturday night.
He deserved to hear the roar of the crowd, to get something back in return for the pound of flesh he gave.
I’ll be back on the BE Substack on Thursday with another Fine Art of Violence gallery, click on over and say hello.
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