Watch UFC ON ESPN 2 | Barboza vs Gaethje Live Stream, FightCard, Start Time, Venue
If there are fights that seem to literally jump off the page the first time you read the news it has been signed, Saturday’s Edson Barboza-Justin Gaethje clash would certainly fit that description.
The five-round lightweight tilt headlines a UFC Fight Night card (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET) from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia that is all but guaranteed to be violent and dramatic.
In an already crowded 155-pound division with no clear path open to the title due to suspensions and uncertainties surrounding the biggest names, the winner of Barboza-Gaethje won’t necessarily be fast-tracked to the No. 1 contender slot. Still, with both fresh off of big wins and so much promise for entertainment, securing a victory against such a dangerous opponent surely wouldn’t hurt the standing of either fighter.
Gaethje (19-2), who is quite aptly nicknamed “The Highlight,” successfully snapped a dangerous two-fight losing skid in which he was brutally stopped by Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier by knocking out James Vick with one punch in August. The 30-year-old also quelled whispers that he’s anything more than a caveman whose all-action style causes just as much damage to himself as it does his opponents.
“Every time I fight it’s pretty much my entire life is on the line,” Gaethje said. “Anytime I can come out victorious, it’s incredibly special. But to knock out a loudmouth like James Vick that quick, it did feel a little bit extra special.
“That nice knockout got me this big fight against Edson Barboza. A big knockout like that against Edson Barboza does big things for me in my next fight.”
UFC ON ESPN: BARBOZA VS. GAETHJE
ESPN+ EARLY PRELIMS 3:30 PM EST, ESPN PRELIMS 5:00 PM EST, ESPN MAIN CARD 7:00 PM EST
- Edson Barboza vs. Justin Gaethje
- David Branch vs. Jack Hermansson
- Josh Emmett vs. Michael Johnson
- Michelle Waterson vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz
- Paul Craig vs. Kennedy Nzechukwu
- Sheymon Moraes vs. Sodiq Yusuff
Sodiq Yusuff -140 Sheymon Moraes +120 Featherweight
- Jessica Aguilar vs. Marina Rodriguez
- Ross Pearson vs. Desmond Green
- Enrique Barzola vs. Kevin Aguilar
- Kevin Holland vs. Gerald Meerschaert
- Ray Borg vs. Casey Kenney
- Sabina Mazo vs. Maryna Moroz
- Alex Perez vs. Mark De La Rosa
Even though Gaethje has an accomplished wrestling background, it’s difficult to have any confidence that he will suddenly start using it. That’s what makes this fight so appealing given the aggressive striking style that Barboza (20-6) employs.
“Everybody knows I’m a striker and love to punch in the face and kick in the face but wherever this fight goes, I am ready,” Barboza said. “Everybody knows what it is like to stand and bang. Get ready for war.”
A native of Brazil, Barboza has fought a virtual murder’s row of opponents over his last nine fights dating back to 2015, including Tony Ferguson, Anthony Pettis, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Kevin Lee (just to name a few). The 33-year-old is 5-4 during that span but rarely seems as if he isn’t one big strike away from winning a fight.
Barboza snapped a two-fight skid of his own in December with an impressive third-round TKO of rising lightweight Dan Hooker that reminded fans of the danger he brings to each fight. Gaethje wasn’t so impressed, however. Even though he respects his opponent’s style, Gaethje doesn’t believe he will have a problem forcing Barboza into submission.
“I’m a fan of MMA. I love the dude, I love the way he fights. But I noticed he’s a quitter,” Gaethje said. “It’s what it is and I am going to put my skills to the test. Two out of 10 times he lands a big shot and knocks me out. Eight out of 10 times I take it from him and take his soul and make him quit in front of everybody.
“I’m super confident that I can break Edson Barboza.”
Any accomplished striker standing across from Gaethje is going to be tested in ways most fighters are simply unable to. Gaethje will absorb the hardest shots you can deliver and still walk you down in hopes of simultaneously draining your gas tank and will.
But Barboza is as battle tested as anyone in the division and showed his toughness in making it the distance against Nurmagomedov in their extremely one-sided 2017 bout. As Alvarez and Poirier both proved, if you can handle yourself in the deep waters that Gaethje inevitably drags you to and you have the type of precise striking to exchange with him late, you can wear him down and finish him with big strikes.
From that point of view, Barboza might be all kinds of wrong for Gaethje, especially if he comes stalking in a straight line and plays into Barboza’s strengths. Fighters who employ Gaethje’s style are few and far between for a reason and most tend to flame out quick due to the damage accrued. Unless Gaethje suddenly shifts into a more self-preserving style, this fight could play out a lot like where his career is headed — short, exciting and brutal.