UFC 146: Edson Barboza vs. Jamie Varner Head-to-Toe Breakdown
Edson Barboza is widely considered one of the brightest up-and-coming contenders in the lightweight division. However, the dynamic Brazilian striker has yet to meet a seasoned veteran like the one he will meet at UFC 146 on Saturday.
Though the former WEC champion might not have panned out into the fighter many thought he would, Jamie Varner will provide a very different test than any the 26-year-old Barboza has faced so far in his young career. While it has been more than one year since Varner faced top-notch competition in the WEC, this chance to return to the UFC could bring out the best in a seasoned veteran who is still only 27 years old.
With this intriguing matchup only a couple days away, let's take a look at whether Barboza will take his next step toward a 155-pound title shot or Varner will mount an unlikely upset and return to relevance in the lightweight division.
One look at the knockout in Edson Barboza's most recent appearance is all one needs to conclude that the Brazilian is a more skilled striker than just about any other lightweight in the world. In the third round of a bout with Terry Etim in January, Barboza landed a spinning heel kick to the chin of his opponent and recorded what will likely become the unanimous choice for the best knockout of the year.
In addition to his excellent arsenal of kicks, Barboza holds a three-inch reach advantage over Jamie Varner. With that advantage at his disposal, the Brazilian will undoubtedly look to stay on the outside and attack the lead leg of Varner with kicks to potentially take the power out of his takedown attempts.
Jamie Varner has never been knocked out, so he should be able to escape Etim's fate, but standing with Barboza will almost certainly equate to a loss for the former WEC champion.
While he's certainly not one of the best wrestlers in the lightweight division, Jamie Varner's takedowns should be good enough to take Edson Barboza to the canvas if he can get his hands on the Brazilian.
In January 2009, Varner scored nine takedowns against Donald Cerrone to retain the belt in a split decision victory. It was not until Varner met current UFC champion Benson Henderson that he was dethroned from the top of the WEC's 155-pound division. Even in defeat, Varner was able to score a takedown before getting caught in a Henderson guillotine choke.
Going to the ground won't mean certain victory against Barboza, who was taken down twice by Terry Etim before scoring a knockout win. However, taking this fight to the ground is probably Varner's only chance to earn his first UFC win since March 2007.
Statistics via FightMetric.com
Training at AMA Fight Club with the likes of Jim Miller, Jamie Varner has developed a very solid ground game. Though he has been forced to tap three times, Varner's submission losses came against excellent grapplers in Benson Henderson, Shane Roller and Hermes Franca. Meanwhile, Varner has picked up 11 of his 19 career wins via submission.
If Varner submits Edson Barboza, he will become the first blemish on the Brazilian's record. While Varner is more proven on the ground and deserves a slight edge in that area, Barboza holds a purple belt in jiu-jitsu and will be difficult enough to take down. A submission in this matchup seems unlikely, as the majority of Varner's submission wins came against his lesser competition.
Two fights removed from a loss against Dakota Cochrane, there will be a ton of pressure on Jamie Varner's shoulders heading into the matchup. An injury to Evan Dunham allowed Varner to return to the Octagon, but an ugly loss against Barboza could quickly send the former WEC champion back to the regional MMA circuit.
In addition to the anxiety he will be feeling when he steps into the Octagon for the first time in more than five years, Varner will have to deal with an opponent who is a much more talented athlete than he is. Barboza is a quicker and more explosive lightweight than Varner, whose only win over an opponent who most would consider high-level came in a controversial decision against Donald Cerrone.
The odds are stacked against Varner in this contest, but that makes it an even bigger opportunity for 27-year-old to remind fans and pundits that he is still improving as a fighter.
If he can take Edson Barboza to the ground, Jamie Varner has the jiu-jitsu to avoid submissions and even threaten with a choke or two of his own. However, Barboza only has to keep this fight standing for the better part of two rounds to earn a win on the scorecards.
The Brazilian will use his reach and speed to land leg kicks and stay at a distance from Varner's takedown attempts. While it won't be as pretty as his win over Etim, Barboza will do enough on his feet to improve his undefeated record to 11-0 on Saturday.
Barboza defeats Varner by unanimous decision.