Photo Courtesy UFC: Edson Barboza Jr., left, will face off against Safford’s native son, Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje in UFC Fight Night on Saturday.
UFC Fight Night will air on ESPN, starting at 4 p.m. Pacific Time
By Jon Johnson
PHILADELPHIA – The paradox of what happens when an unstoppable force comes upon an immovable object will be settled Saturday night in Philadelphia as Safford’s own native son Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje takes on Edson Barboza Jr. in the main event at UFC Fight Night.
Currently Barboza is ranked as the No. 6 Lightweight contender in the world and Gaethje is right behind him ranked No. 7. With the recent announcement of Connor McGregor’s retirement, that leaves one less contender for Gaethje to knock off on his way to the top perch in the sport.
“That nice knockout (of James Vick) got me this big fight against Edson Barboza,” Gaethje said. “A big knockout against someone like Edson Barboza does some great things for me and my next fight.”
Gaethje (19-2) had earned five performance bonuses in his four UFC fights. He is 2-2 in the UFC having epic battles against Dustin Poirier and Eddie Alvarez that just didn’t quite go his way and beating Michael Johnson in his debut. His recent fight against James Vick earned him a quick knockout and left very little damage to himself.
After the Vick knockout, Gaethje spoke about how he feels when opponents disrespect him with crap talk before a match.
“I take everything personal,” Gaethje said. “I took everything he said personal and I’m glad I put him to sleep.”
That will likely not be the case Saturday night, as Gaethje is going up against one of the most prolific strikers in the UFC. Barboza is quick with the jab and deadly accurate with leg kicks to his opponents’ abdomen and the occasional knee strike to the face.
Different from other opponents Gaethje has faced, Barboza, from Rio de Janeiro, and Gaethje have both spoken well of each other and have shown respect not commonly found between fighters of their caliber.
“Justin is a tough guy,” Barboza said. “And this makes me very happy and motivated because I know I am one of the best in the world.”
Gaethje versus Barboza preview video by UFC
“I’m a fan of MMA,” Gaethje said. “I love the dude. I mean, I love the way he fights. And I noticed that he’s a quitter. It’s what it is and I’m going to go out there and put my skills to the test.”
There’s a reason Gaethje has won so many performance bonuses, and his style of fighting should produce yet another one Saturday night.
Known as a Muay Thai specialist, Barboza is no stranger to post-fight bonuses either, with eight of his own in his time in the UFC.
“Everybody knows I’m a striker,” Barboza said. “I love to punch the face and kick the face. Everybody knows that. But however this fight goes I’m ready.”
Gaethje gave himself an 80 percent chance of winning and making Barboza “quit if front of everybody.”
“I am extremely confident that I will break Edson Barboza and extremely confident that it will be super aggressive,” Gaethje said.
The event will air on ESPN, starting at 4 p.m. Pacific Time.
Gaethje is a former all-state wrestler for the Safford Bulldogs and gained All-American status as a wrestler for the University of Northern Colorado.
He made his MMA debut Aug. 20, 2011, with a knockout slam against Kevin Croom and amassed a 7-0 amateur record. He signed with the WSOF on Jan. 22, 2013, and quickly rose to become its inaugural lightweight champion with a first-round knockout of Richard Patishnock in January 2014. Gaethje then successfully defended his title five times, as well as a non-title defense because his opponent didn’t make weight and finished with a 10-0 record before taking his talents to the UFC.