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UFC Fight Night 230 Beforemath: Is Edson Barboza the Crafty Old Vet?

Blaine Henry/Sherdog.com illustration


This weekend, the Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to the Apex arena for “UFC Vegas 81.” On top of the bill, we have a ranked featherweight matchup between Sodiq Yusuff and Edson Barboza. The fight is a proving ground for both fighters. Does Yusuff have what it takes to beat the battle-tested veterans that populate the featherweight elite? Is Barboza still a contender at 37 years of age? In Beforemath, we aim to provide specialized analysis for the main event of the UFC card for the week. Today is a look at the Yusuff vs. Barboza matchup.

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Yusuff: A chance at the Top


Blaine Henry/Sherdog.com illustration


After losing to Arnold Allen, Yusuff managed to rebound well with two straight wins to Alex Cacares and Don Shainis. Barboza is a different challenge all together. The biggest difference between Barboza and Yusuff is the explosiveness. Barboza is fast and hits quite hard. The author of so many highlight knockouts, Barboza is a threat for “Super” Sodiq. The question of the fight will be how does Yusuff take away that explosive style of Barboza?

The proven method to beating Edson Barboza has been, without a doubt, wrestling. But it’s not as simple as shooting your shot. When you look at fighters that have beaten Barboza, you’ll see a varied attack and multiple ways to beat him. While Bryce Mitchell, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Kevin Lee all wrestled him into oblivion, there’s also Justin Gaethje and Giga Chikadze who simply outfought him on the feet. Yusuff is not Chikadze or Gaethje as a striker, so the path to victory has to be in the wrestling.

Against Alex Caceres, a dynamic striker in his own right, we got to see how Yusuff handled slick and savvy strikers. Granted Caceres is nowhere near the fighter Barboza is when it comes to speed and his varied strikes. Yusuff started the attack with a barrage of low kicks.

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Against Caceres, The Team Lloyd Irvin talent landed 34 of 37 low kicks and had Caceres stumbling about the place. Low kicking Barboza would be a bit riskier with the potential of a low kick coming back his way. But to slow Barboza down, Yusuff will want to land some damage to the legs to slow down his swift opponent.

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But with the low kick-heavy approach Barboza employs, Yusuff will need to be sure to check the kicks to minimize his own damage and not get in a kick-for-kick contest with Barboza, one which he loses. When it comes to reaping the benefits of his work on the legs, the 30-year-old will have to have the best wrestling performance of his life. Yusuff manages to get in the clinch well but has completed a total of one takedown in the UFC.

Blaine Henry/Sherdog.com illustration


To get to the clinch, (1) Yusuff will march forward and draw out an attack from Caceres. (2) After a lead hook, Yusuff shoots on the hips and gets his head to the left side of Caceres. Then he (3) goes behind Caceres and keeps his hands locked.

It’s from this position that Yusuff begins to struggle to get takedowns. With a 12% takedown accuracy, Yusuff will have to execute. While that percentage isn’t the end all be all, and doesn’t necessarily reflect actual takedown attempts instead of changing levels to open up other things, Yusuff has made it a point to try to wrestle and couldn’t quite get the job done. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t do things well in the clinch.

Blaine Henry/Sherdog.com illustration


(1) Yusuff managed to get Caceres to the fence in a similar way as above. He ducked under and pushed his shoulder through and drove him to the fence. Caceres managed to pummel through to the underhook, but Yusuff sussed this out and (2) stepped around to the side and (3) to the back clinch. Notice how Yusuff kept the underhooking arm pinned. This opens up a weak spot in Caceres’ takedown defense that Yusuff cannot capitalize on. He should have, instead, pulled him from the fence so he couldn’t lean on it before the arm was freed and reap that side’s leg to get to the ground.

These clinch situations will be crucial in the game plan for Yusuff at “UFC Vegas 81.” Finishing when he’s got Barboza in a clinch, where he can’t be quicker with his hands, will make or break the fight. To see a way Yusuff can win this fight, we toss it over to Olympic gold medalist and the former UFC flyweight and bantamweight champion, Henry Cejudo.

Blaine Henry/Sherdog.com illustration


Demetrious Johnson was a faster and more athletic fighter than Cejudo. To slow the squirrelly opponent, Cejudo managed to (1) clinch up with Johnson. He grabbed the over hook and will (2) pull up on Johnson to raise his center of gravity all while stepping through between the legs of Johnson as deep as he can and he reaps the right leg of his opponent. He will bring Johnson over that leg and (3) complete the takedown.

Yusuff is keen on the leg reap against the fence but hasn’t been able to complete them with regularity. This inside leg trip will help Yusuff if executed properly and can get Barboza on the ground in the middle of the cage where he cannot wall walk up; his go to escape. The task is tall for Yusuff: Barboza is faster, he hits harder and he’s vastly more experienced. But when the moment calls, a fighter will have to step up and rise to the occasion to prove that they’re the best in the world. Yusuff will have to do that to win this fight to continue his chase for the title, but Barboza is dangerous for everyone.

Barboza: New Life, New Challenges


Blaine Henry/Sherdog.com illustration


Barboza’s new life as a featherweight has been a mixed bag but overall positive. He is 3-3 in the division with some good wins and close losses. Barboza proved that despite his physique, the weight cut from 155 to 145 is not going to hinder him. Yusuff is the latest contender to face off against the vet as a young name trying to prove his name. Billy Quarantillo, Shane Burgos and others have tried to use his name as a breakout performance to launch to the top of the division. Yusuff is just the next challenger for the 37-year-old. Knowing that Yusuff is going to employ the low kick, Barboza will have to address that by crowding the kicker, checking the kicks, or staying out of range. The method of this depends on how he reacts. When he lost to Allen, Yusuff’s output was much less than his fight with Caceres.

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Another counter to the low kick for Barboza will be stepping in on the low kick and landing the straight right. Animated above, the right cross is a good way to punish an opponent who throws too many low kicks too predictably. With his speed, Barboza may let Yusuff come out with a few leg kicks, punish him with the cross, and Yusuff could become hesitant to throw any more.

With how Yusuff likes to come forward and exchange, Barboza’s work in the pocket will be another key to victory. While he’s known for his spectacular knockouts like that of Terry Etim, Beneil Dariush and most recently, Billy Quarantillo, Barboza’s pocket work has been superb. He works the body, throwing a mean left hook that crumbles opponents. Dan Hooker and Evan Dunham are two fighters that directly were finished by Barboza’s body work, though most others went through that same trial.

Burgos is a similar style to Yusuff in the fact that he’s a pressure fighter and has a good striking game, if not better. In their fight, the American Top Team contender worked the body to incredible effect with hooks, a roundhouse, and spinning back kick, but his work in the pocket really lent itself well to Barboza.

Blaine Henry/Sherdog.com illustration


(1) We start off in a bladed stance (orthodox versus orthodox) and (2) arbors throws the jab followed by (3) the right. Normally fighters here would take their points and exit the exchange, but not Barboza. On throwing the right, he leans to his left, lining up his next punch. Knowing where his opponent can strike from against Yusuff will be Barboza’s biggest X-factor. If he can let Yusuff come forward but stay in the pocket moving his head and landing the bigger blows at a higher volume, Barboza can come out of this fight victorious.

Blaine Henry/Sherdog.com illustration


Returning to the previous sequence, that next punch loaded up by Barboza was (4) a left hook to the body. Right to the solar plexus, this shot is crippling in itself. (5) Barboza doubles up on the left again with a left hook up top, changing levels again, (6) jabs again to frame off of Burgos, and (7) lands one more right before exiting the exchange. Where a fighter may be content with landing two or three punches to nil for their opponent, Barboza loads up and collects six. These exchanges drive up the strike differential for Barboza giving him the edge on adversaries who opt to strike with him. Lastly, as Yusuff comes forward, he throws out a push kick, or teep, to push his opponent back. Barboza will want to deal with this and has the skills to do so.

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There’s scooping up the kick with your arm and kicking out the leg of your opponent for easy points, elevating the leg for a takedown and others that Barboza can do. My preference for “Junior” would be to catch the kick and pull Yusuff into a right cross as Thai boxing legend Rodtang Jitmuangnon does. Pulling an opponent is something he does well as a pressure fighter who sees his share of push kicks in a failed attempt to slow his march. Barboza could do this to really make Sodiq Yusuff second-guess his game plan and have a crisis midfight.

Much of what has been suggested is based around Barboza’s veteranship. He has more than double the fight experience of his opponent on Saturday. This has gotten him through some fights and against Yusuff, it can be enough, but Barboza lays an egg every now and then and seems to just implode on himself. That won’t work and he will need to live up to his status of crafty old vet.

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