Edson Barboza faces Michael Johnson this Sunday at UFC Fight Night 61.
The polarizing Lightweight contender has won two straight fights leading up to this event -- a first-round annihilation of Evan Hunham along with a comfortable three-round decision victory over Bobby Green.
In his career, Barboza has put together a few similar streaks of success, but has yet to actualize his full potential. Losses have always come soon after Barboza begins to hint at a title shot.
Despite this, he has eleven UFC fights, and nine wins, yet has never been in a title fight. That could show signs that something is lacking in him. Something may be holding him back, despite all of his success, and current # 6 ranking by the UFC.
Truth be told, it is hardly that at all. Barboza, 29, has one of the most proven striking games in all of combat sports. Putting aside his MMA career, Barboza went 25-3 as a kickboxer, and scored 23 career knockouts. He also earned a black-belt in Taekwondo as well as honors in Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He has an accomplished striking base -- without question -- but has grown into a more complete mold through some unexpected setbacks.
His only loss in five fights is a first round submission defeat to Donald Cerrone. Cerrone has gone on a tear since that day in April of last year; winning four straight to follow. Barboza's only other UFC defeat came against MMA veteran Jamie Varner, who caught him in the first round and forced a stoppage with strikes.
How could a loss to one of MMA's hottest fighters, or a fluky finish to Varner, define him? Well, both showed evidence of a disparity of something.
The Varner fight happened nearly three years ago. Barboza was coming off of a four fight UFC win streak and a knockout over Terry Etim. He found himself careless, and was punished for early mistakes.
This storyline hasn't been repeated yet. In the Cerrone fight, Barboza was caught in poor ground position against a submission specialist. You could argue that even the Lightweight champion could find himself in such a trap if he were to allow it. Lessons be learned; Barboza recently defeated Bobby Green, a fighter with a terrific ground game. He didn't tire, he didn't panic, he remained composed and took home a win for it.
Barboza's maturation is nearly complete. For an MMA fighter, 29 is hardly too late to make a title push, so long as he doesn't have a few more lessons to be learned along the way. He has fought like a man with know-how, and one capable of rallying and recovering when he makes a mistake. It has happened for him in the cage, and out.
For now, he just needs one more win -- in Porto Alegre against an infallible competitor in Michael Johnson. If he is able to put on a good performance -- be it knockout or decision -- we might just be onto something with Edson Barboza.
UFC Fight Night 61 Co-Main Event Prediction: Edson Barboza def. Michael Johnson by TKO in 2.