ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Edson Barboza and Kevin Lee both had a little something to prove Saturday night at UFC Fight Night 128. Both were coming off losses. Both had to regain the thrust that their careers lost. Both needed to prove they could beat a legitimate contender.
Lee accomplished his mission.
He manhandled Barboza, and with the exception of a scary moment in the third round, dominating most of the scheduled five-round lightweight showdown before 9,541 ($923,720 gate) in Atlantic City’s fabled Boardwalk Hall, which was the first time that the UFC had been there since UFC 53 on Feb. 4, 2005.
Lee (17-3) had Barboza on his back almost 80-percent of the time, and opened a severe gash over his right eye in the fifth, which forced referee Keith Peterson to stop it at the advice of the ringside doctor at 2:18 of the round.
“I said before this fight, mental strength was going to be the key,” Lee said. “I wanted to go all five rounds and show my complete game. I feel I did that. I did a little southpaw, out-boxed him and stopped him in the fifth.
“I can do it all. I feel I’m the most complete fighter in this division. I can stand with the toughest striker in the world. Edson Barboza is 100 percent the best striker in this division. I wanted to go out there and show it. I showed I can do it all. I can push through adversity. That wheel kick hurt. The man’s got some explosiveness on him. We’re the two best athletes in this division and I just showed I’m the better of the two.
“You know what time it is. It’s Khabib [Nurmagomedov] time.”
With around two minutes left in the first, Lee began building a theme. He would pick up Barboza and throw him down, then proceed to pound away with punches, forearms and elbows, which tended to make a dull thud off of Barboza’s head. Inside of a minute of the first, Lee was bashing away again. Barboza (19-6) was left almost defenseless, trying to shield his face and head by holding his hands up.
In the second, Barboza began to swell under his right eye. With 3:53 left in the round, Lee picked up Barboza once more and slammed him to the canvas, raining more rights and forearms on him.
Barboza would get one respite.
At around 3:57 in the third, the fight took a completely different sway when Barboza nailed Lee with a spinning head kick. Suddenly, Lee lost control of his legs. He wobbled then fell, and looked in dire shape. Lee had no snap on his punches. His legs were rubbery, but he had the wherewithal to pin Barboza against the cage to find enough time to recover.
By the fourth, it was more of the same refrain. Lee picked up Barboza and threw him down again. Lee proved he was the more physically dominant fighter, landing forearms on Barboza’s head.
In the fifth, Barboza’s right eye had blown up and was a bloody quagmire. Lee had him in peril again, when Peterson intervened to end
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Edgar Shines in Homecoming
The roar rose even before he began his cage walk. That’s how great the hometown advantage was for UFC’s No. 3-ranked featherweight, Frankie “The Answer” Edgar, from nearby Toms River, New Jersey. The chants didn’t take long to reach a high pitch, either, as the crowd began yelling “Frankie Edgar, Frankie Edgar, Frankie Edgar!”
Would Cub Swanson, the No. 4-ranked featherweight, succumb to the Edgar momentum around him?
That was the pressing question in the three-round featherweight bout.
Edgar answered that quickly. He opened a small cut under Swanson’s right eye in the first with a left hook. By the second, swelling began to form around Swanson’s left eye. Edgar was the stalker throughout much of the first eight minutes. Neither did much of anything in the second, though Edgar may have been the more active of the two.
Edgar nailed Swanson with a left kick on his right arm, which didn’t sound too good on Swanson’s shoulder. Swanson (25-9) did hit Edgar with a right to the jaw inside the last minute of the third, though it seemed a little too late.
Afterward, both of Swanson’s eyes were swollen, while Edgar barely looked touched.
Edgar (23-6-1) won by unanimous scores of 30-27.
“Cub did a great job. I wanted to put on a more dominant performance, but hats off to Cub,” Edgar said. “He made me chase him this time. It made the takedowns harder to get, but I out-struck him. He’s supposed to be the striker and I’m supposed to be the grappler, but I beat him on the feet.”
“I had the title shot and risked it. I was doing really well against Brian Ortega, but he caught me with a shot. I’d love to fight the winner of Holloway and Ortega. We’ll see what happens. I’m going to take some time off. I fought two fights back-to-back. We’ll see what happens with those guys and go from there.”
Willis Edges Sherman
This heavyweight battle didn’t score too many points on the aesthetic scale. Both Chase Sherman and Justin Willis threw their share of sloppy, wide punches and misfired kicks. It was Willis (6-2) that landed more of his wild flings than Sherman, taking the fight by 29-28 scores on all three scorecards.
Sherman (11-5) has now lost for the second-straight time. He was so disgusted that he walked out of the Octagon without even bothering to shake Willis’ hand. Willis won for the seventh-straight time, after losing in his pro debut.
“He was just trying to survive, but I’ve got to do better next time and finish. I have to throw more punches and not just concentrate on knockouts,” Willis said about Sherman. “I need to focus on picking them apart the whole time. I got a little one-dimensional. That’s OK, because I got the win.
“That’s all that matters in the UFC. It’s about winning. I’m going to take some time off and come back a lot better. I want to come back a bit lighter, throw more kicks and use my takedowns more. All I can do is go back to the drawing board and get better.”
Branch Bounces Back in Style
One David Branch overhand right, which was precise, short and right on the sweet spot downed Thiago Santos for good at 2:30 of the first round.
Hopefully, it will be enough to get Branch (22-4) back on the right path, after his submission loss to Luke Rockhold last September. Santos (17-6) saw his four-fight winning streak get snapped in more than a few pieces.
“He’s tricky to get to,” Branch said of Santos. “We had to loop those punches, because he was expecting us to throw them right up the middle. He’s a bruiser. Any time he goes in there, he’s going to go out on his shield or knock you out.
“I’ve sent the message that I’m here. I defended my rank—rightfully so—and I’m looking to climb again. I’ve got my eyes on the winner of [Ronaldo Souza] Jacare and [Kelvin] Gastelum. There are a lot guys ahead of me I’d like to fight, but I take it one step at a time.”
Sterling Ends Johns’ Streak
Aljamain Sterling was supposed to be a step-up fight for rising bantamweight Brett Johns. Looks like the Welsh fighter tripped over that stage, because he was thoroughly dominated by the fighter from Cortland, New York, who had entered the three-round bout a loser in three of his last five fights.
Maybe this will get Sterling (15-3) back on track, after he won a unanimous decision over Johns by 30-27 scores. Sterling was having the better of the previously undefeated Johns (15-1) after two, so much so that Johns’ corner man got up in his face between second and third rounds to emphasize the urgency.
It didn’t matter.
Johns, with a smudge of blood on the tip of his nose and his left eye slightly swollen, was taken down numerous times by Sterling in the last round. On one takedown, Johns landed forehead first into the canvas. As the fight was ending, Sterling threw Johns to the canvas and closed in control, hammering on Johns’ face.
“That last fight was a big learning lesson for me,” said Sterling, referring to his first-round KO loss to Marlon Moraes in December. “This fight was to let everyone know I’m still here and I’m one of the best bantamweights in the world. There’s a guy I look up to, but there’s a time when your idols become your rivals. Dominick Cruz, let’s do this.”
“It was about picking the key moments and getting the right timing to get into those striking battles. In my last fight, it’s unlike me to rush in. I got caught. I just went back to being me and doing what I do best. It’s Funkmaster time. I’ve heard of Khabib time, but Funkmaster time is a bit different.”
“Brett’s a tough dude. I knew he was going to be tough and durable. He was hungry for a big step up, but it’s my time. No doubt in my mind, Brett’s going to come back a better fighter from this. Like I said, it’s still Funkmaster time and I’m coming for that belt.”
Hooker Makes Easy Work of Miller
In the first fight of the main card, lightweight Dan Hooker (16-7) made easy work of venerated veteran Jim Miller (28-12) in the first fight of the main card. Hooker backed Miller against the fence, then nailed him with a right knee to the head. That was it. Miller fell back with his eyes rocked back in his head and referee Gary Copeland quickly waved it over at 3:00 of the first round.
“It feels pretty surreal at the moment,” Hooker said. “I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet. I understand this sport. I’ve been through every high and low in this game. I know that could have just as easily been me. It’s a coin toss when you go in there. So with every victory—especially a victory like this—I’m just appreciative. He could have caught me with one of those overhand lefts and I’d be on the ground.
“I just want a ranked opponent next.”
It was the fourth-straight loss for Miller, who at 34 might want to think about ending a very good career. Hooker, 28, upped his winning streak to three-straight fights and was a winner for the fourth time in his last five.
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Joseph Santoliquito is the president of the Boxing Writer's Association of America and a frequent contributor to Sherdog.com's mixed martial arts and boxing coverage. His archive can be found here.