Sherdog Prospect Watch: Edson Mendes Barboza Jr.

By Chris Nelson Nov 20, 2010
There’s this fighter. The guy is a stud, a legitimate 155-pound terror with absurd power in his strikes. Look him up on YouTube and watch him melt opponents with every limb. You might have to search for a few different names, though. Try “Edson Barboza” or “Edson Junior” or “Edson Mendes,” or any combination of those.

“My full name is Edson Mendes Barboza, Jr., so maybe, because of this, there’s that confusion. I’m sorry about it,” the fighter says, apologizing when questioned about his muddled moniker. “You can call me ‘Junior’ or ‘Edson.’ It doesn’t matter. I like both names.”

Barboza’s polite, accommodating tone stands in stark contrast to the violence he precipitates inside the cage, providing a bit of insight as to why the UFC might chance signing a fighter with only half a dozen professional bouts to its most talent-rich division. At 24, Barboza (Pictured) seems to possess a maturity beyond his years; likewise, his extensive muay Thai credentials belie his relatively skimpy mixed martial arts record.

Although he made his mixed martial arts debut just 19 months ago, much of Barboza’s life has been spent in preparation for what is about to come. Born and raised about 80 miles outside of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in the industrial district of Nova Friburgo, Barboza was encouraged by his athletic family to begin honing his fighting skills when he was still in grade school.

“I’ve fought since I was 8 years old. My whole life was in the ring, training and fighting,” says Barboza. “I really liked to watch fight movies, and I wanted to learn to fight like those guys. My mom and dad took me to train at a city social project for poor children, so I started to train muay Thai with my master, Anderson Franca, and then I fell in love with this sport.”

Franca, one of the country’s most respected muay Thai coaches, created a monster. Barboza won Thai boxing titles throughout Brazil, becoming the three-time state champion of Rio de Janeiro while amassing a professional record of 25-3, with 22 knockouts. However, in 2008, the fighter sensed the end of that journey drawing near and began looking toward a new challenge.

“I got important muay Thai titles in Brazil, but I couldn’t see my future in that career anymore because, in Brazil, it’s hard to live off that sport,” Barboza says. “So, I talked a lot with my manager, Alex Davis, and then we decided I’d come to Florida to train with The Armory team, alongside Joe Mullings.”

MMA has seen its share of one-dimensional crossover athletes, fighters with old-school mentalities who believe the tools of their trade will be enough to get them by in a sport which increasingly demands near-perfection in multiple disciplines. Bazboza held no such illusions. One would think a guy with such an impressive stand-up background would have some catching up to do in the grappling department, but Barboza stunned instructors at the jiu-jitsu-centric Armory with his well-rounded game during his first visit in January 2009.

Just a few months later, Barboza had relocated to Jupiter, Fla., and was ready for his MMA debut under the banner of the Tampa, Fla.-based Real Fighting Championships. He needed less than four minutes to dispatch his opponent, Aaron Steadman, via technical knockout on that day in April. In June 2009, Barboza traveled to New Orleans to take on the vastly more experienced Lee King. Barboza knocked him out in the second round and then won a November rematch via anaconda choke submission.

Following another pair of wins in early 2010, Barboza took on countryman Marcelo Giudici in New Jersey’s Ring of Combat, one of the east coast’s top feeder promotions for MMA’s big leagues. Barboza chopped out the legs from under Giudici in just three minutes, capturing the ROC lightweight title in a performance that would net him comparisons to featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo, as well as a contract with the world’s premier fighting organization.

While some would argue that Barboza is still too green to face the level of competition the UFC has to offer, the fighter says he is more prepared than they know.

“I am young, but I have a lot of muay Thai fights, I have always trained jiu-jitsu and I’ve always been involved with MMA,” Barboza says. “A lot of people think my MMA career is going so fast, but it’s not true, because I’ve trained MMA for a long time. I was just waiting for the right moment to start.”

In the eyes of most, Barboza’s career will begin in earnest on Saturday, when he makes his promotional debut at UFC 123 in Auburn Hills, Mich. Originally slated to meet Darren Elkins, the Brazilian was thrown a curveball when Elkins backed out due to injury less than two weeks before the fight. Barboza will instead meet fellow UFC newcomer Mike Lullo, a fact which should not have much impact on his preparation.

“I do [watch tape], but not a lot, because I worry mostly about myself and what I need to do,” says Barboza.

That’s not to say Barboza does not enjoy watching fights. In fact, unlike many professional fighters who do not care to spend their downtime watching “work,” Barboza is both a fan and a student of the sport.

“There are a lot of fighters that I like,” he says. “In muay Thai, I like Andy Souwer and John Wayne Parr; in grappling, my training partners Pablo Popovitch and Rodrigo Cavaca; and in MMA, I like [Antonio Rodrigo] ‘Minotauro’ Nogueira, Anderson Silva and Wanderlei Silva.”

If Barboza continues to run through opponents in the UFC as he has so far in his career, he will have the potential to join the ranks of those great fighters. And, people might just start getting his name right.

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