Manager: Leg, Hand Injuries Nearly Kept Barboza from UFC 128

By Chris Nelson Mar 21, 2011
Edson Barboza earned the biggest win of his young career at UFC 128 on Saturday night, and a hard-earned win it was.

Inside the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., the unbeaten Brazilian prospect battled incoming WEC lightweight Anthony Njokuani in a striking-heavy, 15-minute scrap that went straight down to the wire. Barboza improved to 8-0 with a narrow unanimous decision and pocketed $70,000 in “Fight of the Night” bonus pay, but according to his camp, the 25-year-old was very nearly forced out of the bout in late February.

“We were almost gonna pull Edson from that fight, because he had really injured his hand about three and a half weeks ago during a training incident,” Joe Mullings, Barboza’s manager and owner of Jupiter, Fla., gym The Armory, told Sherdog.com on Sunday. “He hit an overhand right and caught the top of somebody’s head, and it really bruised the top of the hand bad.”

However, Mullings asserted that the damaged paw was a secondary concern to a serious leg injury Barboza sustained while preparing for his sophomore Octagon outing.

“About six weeks ago, he blew out his right leg in a training situation,” said Mullings. “We were training and he kicked one of his training partners who had shin pads on. The guy grabbed his leg, ‘Junior’ went to turn out of it and his knee stayed in place, and the shin rotated. He dropped to the ground like a ton of bricks and he’s been in rehab literally six days a week since then. He had not thrown a kick in six weeks.”

With Barboza unable to spar or train lower-body cardio, the decision to keep him in the match did not come easily; in the end, the fighter and his Armory team saw little other option. Not only would Barboza need to keep active in order to further rise in the UFC’s 155-pound shark tank, but the opportunity to produce in-cage fireworks with a fellow muay Thai stylist was simply too good to pass up.

“It’s only his second UFC [fight], and who knows what’s gonna happen if he sits on the bench? When’s the next time he’s gonna get a fight against a great striker like Anthony?” Mullings posited.

Come fight night, Barboza’s strategy involved a reduced number of right leg kicks, the very tool which he had used to chop down Mike Lullo in his UFC debut four months prior. The strike was to be reserved for the second and third rounds, so that Barboza could “get a good round under [his] belt” without having to further exacerbate his injury. Watching from the corner, Mullings soon watched that strategy fall by the wayside.

“Of course, it being Junior, he wanted to fire that thing right away,” Mullings said. “The first kick of the night, the whole thing went rubbery on him. In between the first and second rounds, he pointed at it, ’cause he didn’t want to say anything, ’cause the cameras were on him. He said, ‘I can’t even stand on it.’”

It was at this point that Mullings and Armory Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructor Eduardo Guedes urged their charge to take the fight to the floor. A dyed-in-the-wool striker, Barboza insisted on staying upright and showing his standup superiority against Njokuani.

“If you look, he was still peppering kicks, but he could not set his back leg, which is where his power for his right hand comes from,” Mullings said.

The lightweights split the first two rounds, and the fight still appeared up for grabs midway through the final stanza. Outworked by Njokuani through much of the period, Barboza scored a takedown with 30 seconds to go and briefly kept his man pinned to the fence. As Njokuani struggled to his feet, Barboza wheeled backward into the center of the Octagon and positioned himself for his final strike. Njokuani charged in and Barboza whipped around, using his injured leg to plant a beautiful spinning hook kick square on the Texan’s jawline. Njokuani stumbled backward and then wobbled forward toward Barboza, who raised his hands in victory at the sound of the final horn.

“I want to take nothing away from Anthony. Anthony fought a wonderful fight,” said Mullings. “We were very surprised and impressed, regardless of Edson’s injury, with Anthony’s fight. Very, very, very impressive.”

While Njokuani’s bonus pay hopefully helped dull the sting of a close defeat, Mullings said the extra check was merely icing on the cake compared to the learning experience Barboza picked up in the fight.

“Obviously, the money is a component, but more importantly, Junior felt it was a perfect fight for this point, as his career has reached this level in the UFC, that he went through a war like this,” Mullings said. “Him and I were sitting outside after the fight, talking, and he said, ‘Joe, these are the kind of wars I need under my belt. I had them in muay Thai, and they’re what defined me as a muay Thai fighter. I needed a fight like this now in my MMA career that really tested my courage.’ And Anthony certainly did that.”
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