MMA’s all-time best knockout artists typically have calling cards. For Mirko Filipovic, it was his devastating kicks. He famously declared the right leg would send you to the hospital and the left would send you to the cemetery. Chuck Liddell, on the other hand, typically relied on his fists. His hooks flew with bad intentions, and when they connected, they frequently put out opponents. Honing concussive power behind a specific technique takes time, and most fighters have specific favorites on which they rely. What makes Edson Barboza so scary is the multiplicity of ways he finishes world-class opponents.
Prior to his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut in 2010, Barboza finished opponents most often with his punches. Gifted with raw knockout power, he scored a number of early finishes with his fists. However, his kicks over time proved to be even more formidable weapons. Barboza has some of the nastiest leg kicks ever seen in the UFC, continuing the Brazilian legacy of the likes of Pedro Rizzo and Jose Aldo. Against Evan Dunham, he showed his kicks can devastate to the body as well as the legs. Then there was the matter of what he did to Terry Etim -- a wheel kick finish that many consider to be the most spectacular knockout in the history of the sport.
Unfortunately for his opponents, Barboza has even more techniques in his muay Thai bag of tricks. He demonstrated another one for Beneil Dariush at UFC Fight Night 106 on March 11, unleashing a flying knee that resulted in Sherdog’s “Knockout of the Year” for 2017. Just when you think you have Barboza figured out, he surprises you with something new that he can deliver with devastating effect.
Dariush is one of many victims of the depth of the lightweight division. The Kings MMA standout has exquisite talent but does not tend to get the full recognition he deserves. He entered his fight with Barboza having won seven of his last eight inside the Octagon -- a run that included his handing James Vick and Rashid Magomedov their only official UFC losses. He is not an opponent who is easy to look good against, and he demonstrated as much against Barboza. All three writers scoring the Barboza fight for Sherdog gave Dariush the first round on the strength of his striking.
The success Dariush had in the early going made what happened next all the more shocking. A confident Dariush was pressing the action in the second round, attacking from different angles and continuing to do well against Barboza. He looked like a fighter who sensed he was on the verge of scoring yet another crucial victory. However, Barboza remains dangerous throughout any fight.
Dariush did not even make a significant mistake. Barboza simply found the smallest of openings and lunged forward with a short flying knee at the precise moment Dariush was moving in. Flying knees are at their most dangerous when an opponent is ducking in, typically for a takedown, so that the fighter’s own momentum makes the collision more violent. The knee caught Dariush right on the jaw, and the Assyrian with the sturdy chin was flat out. Barboza had one more for the highlight reel.
Barboza’s knockout might end up playing an important role in his career. He appeared to be on his way to a loss against Dariush. That would have left Barboza 3-3 in his last six fights in a division where it is easy to get lost. Instead, Barboza picked up his third straight win and now will get a fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 219, where the winner could be in line for a title shot depending on what happens with Conor McGregor and Tony Ferguson. That is a rapid reversal, just like the one the knee represented in the fight.
Beyond the immediate ramifications of the knee, fans tend to remember over the long haul fighters who demonstrate explosiveness like Barboza’s. Even when those fighters struggle, fans recall their most electrifying moments and think that sort of excitement could come again. When the tide can turn at any second, it adds drama to every moment. Vitor Belfort is probably the most prominent example of this phenomenon, but it applies to many great fighters. Barboza has put together a collection of those sorts of moments that will work to his advantage for many years to come.
Unlike with other great strikers where there is a specific threat for opponents to be wary of and for fans to anticipate, Barboza’s next highlight reel blow could come from anywhere. If you work from the outside, his kicks are devastating at all levels. If you work at a closer distance, his punches and elbows are formidable in their own right. If you move in for the clinch, Barboza’s knee awaits. It is a dangerous puzzle to try to solve. Past opponents have proven it can be done, but it is going to be a challenge. Just ask Dariush.
Sherdog’s year-end awards were voted upon by a panel of Sherdog.com staff members and contributors: Jordan Breen, Tristen Critchfield, Chris Nelson, Mike Fridley, Brian Knapp, Eric Stinton, Todd Martin, Jordan Colbert, Josh Stillman, Jesse Denis, Edward Carbajal and Anthony Walker.