Edson Barboza understands the importance of not allowing a loss to derail his belief in himself

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - APRIL 15: Edson Barboza celebrates his victory over Billy Quarantillo in a featherweight bout during UFC Fight Night Kansas City on April 15, 2023, at T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Matt Davies/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Edson Barboza snapped a two-fight losing skein by defeating Billy Quarantillo in April. (Matt Davies/Getty Images) (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This is a story of two fighters and the dreams and aspirations they share. Fighter A was 19-4 with 12 finishes, including 11 knockouts and one submission. He scored wins over the likes of Beneil Dariush, Gilbert Melendez, Anthony Pettis, Paul Gelder and Bobby Green, among others. He never fought for the title, but always seemed to be in the position where, if he got a win at the right time, it would happen.

He also was in five bouts that were called Fight of the Night and earned a Performance of the Night and a Knockout of the Night bonus.

Fighter B is 4-7 with three finishes, all knockouts. His wins were over Dan Hooker, Makwan Amirkhani, Shane Burgos and Billy Quarantillo. Two of his bouts were Fight of the Night and two were Performance of the Night. Though he’s 1-2 in his last three, he still harbors dreams of fighting for the title.

Both fighters have fought fan-friendly styles and their bouts have been highly anticipated by those who follow the sport the closest.

Fighter A is Edson Barboza, who competed at lightweight throughout that 19-4 stretch, which included a 13-4 mark in the UFC.

But Fighter B is also Barboza. He’s gone 4-7 since UFC 219 on Dec. 30, 2017, when he dropped a unanimous decision to future lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, now a member of the UFC Hall of Fame.

Barboza faces Sodiq Yusuff on Saturday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+) at Apex in the main event of UFC Vegas 81 and he still harbors the goal of winning the championship. And he says that he believes he’s a better fighter now than he’s been in his career, even though his recent record doesn’t reflect it.

He laughed and said he wasn’t dreaming to think he’s good enough to win a championship, which his experience has taught him.

“Thank God I’m mentally strong, to begin with,” Barboza said of dealing with the anxiety caused by losses. “I’ve been doing sports my whole life. My first fight was when I was 8 years old. I know how this game works, you know? I still cry after a loss like it’s my first. Every time I lose, I cry like a baby. I just hate losing so much. It is just the most terrible feeling. Winning, wow, when you win, when you beat someone at this level of a sport that is so hard, I can’t even describe to you what that’s like. These are the best guys in the world I’m fighting and they’re training for months to win against me. And when I win, that feeling is incredible.

“I’ve gotten the experience to understand. When I lose, after I get over the hurt, I know that I can win the next one. But I live in the real world and I understand how the sport works. I know that after a win, I could lose the next one. You need to understand that. No one wins all the time in this sport.”

Edson Barboza, left, looks to punch Paul Felder during their lightweight mixed martial arts bout during UFC Chicago on Saturday, July 25, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)

Edson Barboza (L) is 23-11 heading into his fight Saturday at Apex in Las Vegas against Sodiq Yusuff. (Jeff Haynes/The Associated Press) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Barboza is ranked 13th at featherweight, two spots behind Yusuff. And while he’s unlikely to get a title shot, an impressive win over Yusuff could put him as high as 10th in the rankings. Once a fighter is in the top 10, nothing is out of the realm of possibility. So if Barboza could win three in a row, he could finally get that shot he so desperately covets.

Experience has also helped Barboza corral his emotions. Like nearly everyone who’s ever had a fight, whether in a ring or a cage with a large TV audience watching or on the playground after school with a few friends shouting catcalls, he gets nervous before a fight.

He’s learned to channel those fears into positive energy.

“It’s hard, but it’s also a good feeling,” he said. “You know, I know that sounds weird, but you have these thoughts come into your head you have to deal with. ‘Am I the same? Can I still do this?’ I get scared a little bit. I get worried for my family and my friends and I don’t want to disappoint them.

“I love this game and I love those feelings. You have to overcome those to be able to go out and perform the way you want. And you have to learn, things may not always go your way even if you’re doing what you thought you needed to do. That’s this sport and that’s why I love it so much.”

He raved about Yusuff’s physical strength and his overall game. He said the fact that Yusuff is as talented as he is and ranked above him helped him be on top of his game during camp. He’s eager to put on a show and continue his journey toward what he believes is a bid for the featherweight championship.

His record over the last five-plus years would suggest it’s unlikely, but his career tells him otherwise.

“There are so many little things that make a fight go this way or that way, and some of them you can’t control,” Barboza said. “And so all you can do is keep working as hard as you can, believe in yourself, keep trying to improve and know that if you do that, it will happen eventually. You’re going to win some and lose some, but it’s about staying [the course] and not getting distracted from your job.”

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