The UFC Philadelphia main event pairing of Justin Gaethje and Edson Barboza has an electric feel to it, and at Thursday’s media day, the Brazilian admitted that anything could happen.
Wilmington, DE — The main event of UFC Philadelphia (UFC on ESPN 2, the promotion’s second outing on ESPN’s flagship channel) has had fans drooling since it was announced. Justin Gaethje vs. Edson Barboza is a fight that promises more than fireworks. It has Fight of the Year potential. Which might be lofty expectations, until you remember that the lightweight pairing are essentially bonus winning machines. Neither of which like to back down in a fight.
Gaethje (19-2) owns five bonuses in four fights, not to mention two Fight of the Year awards in his brief tenure with the company. Barboza (20-6), with the UFC a fair bit longer, owns eight post-fight bonuses including six Fight of the Night distinctions. Those are the kind of numbers that simply don’t lie. Records tell one story, but if you perform consistently at the highest level, the bonuses come.
Fight of the Night Potential
If not Fight of the Year, Barboza vs. Gaethje certainly seems like a top candidate for Fight of the Night. Barboza, on his opponent, told reporters including Cageside Press on Thursday that “he’s a great fighter, he’s one of the best.” The pair are ranked neck and neck in the UFC lightweight division. Barboza is sixth. Gaethje seventh. More exciting than rankings, however, is style. “He has his style. I really don’t believe, sometimes [people say] good style, bad style. He has his style. He’s doing very well, he’s winning most of his fights. He comes forward, he throws everything. It’s making me excited for this fight.”
It’s the potential of Gaethje coming forward —does he ever not? — that has fans excited as well. But there’s no pressure, said Barboza, despite the lofty expectations. “I don’t feel pressure at all. I really don’t worry about this. I always stay focused, go in there, give my best, and have fun. That’s the most important, have fun.”
Hooker vs. Barboza
It wasn’t long ago that Edson Barboza got back in the win column after a couple of tough losses. He righted the ship against Dan Hooker at UFC on FOX 31, the final FOX network card. Hooker, like Gaethje, is a gritty fighter. He certainly didn’t go down early, and the body shots he absorbed, delivered by Barboza, are still fresh in many fan’s memories.
It’s a fight Barboza feels he can grow from. “I think every fight, you get better for the next one. The fight against Hooker made me better for sure.”
“Mentally especially,” he added. “That fight made me much better for the next one.”
There Is No Game Plan
Barboza admits that his team, his corner, having been taking about game plans his entire camp. He always answers that he understands. “But I’m a fighter. I don’t know what’s gonna happen in the octagon. He’s coming hard, I go like a crazy dog. You never know. I’m a fighter, bro.”
“People asking about the game plan for this fight — the game plan is no game plan,” he addmited. “Just go in there and have fun.”
Fun, in the form of unrestrained violence, is what fans are expecting in the main event of UFC Philadelphia. The card airs live Saturday, March 30 on ESPN.