MMA Ratings Podcast

March 29, 2019

UFC on ESPN 2: Edson Barboza and Justin Gaethje Set For War At UFC Philadelphia

By Adam Martin

When the UFC announced the main event of its return to Philadelphia would be a five-round lightweight barnburner between Edson Barboza and Justin Gaethje, the news was universally celebrated by fans and media alike. Everyone knows Barboza and Gaethje match up well stylistically as two of the highest-volume and more durable fighters in the division, and pitting them against one another should result in one of the most exciting fights of the year. This here is great matchmaking.

It's also an important fight as far as the lightweight hierarchy goes. With Khabib Nurmagomedov suspended, Tony Ferguson dealing with personal issues, Conor McGregor allegedly retired, Nate Diaz MIA, and Max Holloway and Dustin Poirier fighting for an interim belt, the lightweight division has never been more open. Not only do Barboza and Gaethje have the opportunity to put on a great fight for the fans and make a lot of money, they could also vault into title contention with a win.

For both men, the fact that they are main eventing the UFC's second big card on ESPN shows what one elite performance can do for someone's career. In the case of Barboza, he had lost back-to-back fights to Khabib Nurmagomedov and Kevin Lee in devastating fashion before bouncing back with arguably the 2018 "Beatdown of the Year" over Dan Hooker. We all know Barboza is a talented striker, but the fights against Nurmagomedov and Lee showed the holes in his grappling. Yet when you have a performance like he did against Hooker, fans, media, and the UFC matchmakers forget about that.

In the case of Gaethje, his KO win over James Vick was a nice way to make people forget about the fact he was brutally knocked out by Poirier and Eddie Alvarez before that. We all know the problem with Gaethje, and that's his striking defense, which is completely non-existent. But when he can go into the Octagon and knock his opponents out in the first round just like he did to Vick, then people ignore the holes in his game and focus on the positives. In the case of Gaethje, it's the fact that he always leaves his heart and soul inside the Octagon, win or lose, and we love him for that.

With an impressive win, especially if it's a late knockout after a back-and-forth war, the winner of this bout is going to be well-positioned to challenge for the lightweight belt. After Holloway and Poirier fight for the interim title and attempt to unify the belt against Nurmagomedov at the end of the year, the division will need a fresh contender. With Ferguson's personal issues stalling his career, both Barboza and Gaethje will have a chance to enter the title conversation. But even if neither fighter ever holds UFC gold, they'll both be fan favorites until the end of time because of their exciting fights.

After all of the wars these men have been in, it's possible the best is still yet to come for both men. After both guys have had fan-friendly careers featuring amazing bouts and incredible knockouts, we might see the best both men have to offer this weekend when they meet inside the Octagon in the main event of UFC Philadelphia. The UFC is often criticized for their matchmaking, but this is as good as it gets, and the fact the fight is on big ESPN should hopefully give both fighters the attention they deserve on the big stage that they maybe haven't gotten to this point in their careers to date.

Edson Barboza vs. Justin Gaethje

UFC on ESPN 2: Barboza vs. Gaethje takes place March 30, 2019 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Click HERE for more UFC on ESPN 2 Pre-Fight Analysis

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