Imagine traveling around town with a guy who you’re going to punch in the face in five weeks.
Sounds odd, but that was the case on Tuesday, when UFC fighters Kevin Lee and Edson Barboza hit a bunch of Philly spots to talk about their April 21st headlining bout at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall. Maybe the art of promotion in combat sports isn’t dead after all.
For Barboza, this will be his third fight in AC. He beat Evan Dunham there in 2014 at Revel Casino, the last time the UFC went to South Jersey. The Brazilian lightweight also won a pair of fights in Atlantic City back in 2010 when he was fighting for the Ring of Combat promotion. Barboza relocated to New Jersey a few years ago and trains with Toms River native Frankie Edgar and Philadelphia’s Eddie Alvarez.
Lee is a Detroit fighter who made his UFC debut in Newark but has yet to fight in our region.
It’s a interesting matchup at 155 pounds between a pair of guys coming off tough losses to elite opponents. Lee fought for the interim lightweight title in October but was bested by Tony Ferguson with a third round triangle choke. Barboza was battered by the undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov back in December.
Khabib and Ferguson meet on April 7th in Brooklyn for the title that Conor McGregor won in 2016, then later vacated.
This fight should help sort out the pecking behind Ferguson and Khabib. Lee had the opportunity to fight Alvarez, but wanted Barboza instead. Eddie is three months removed from an excellent win against the previously unbeaten Justin Gaethje.
Lee and Barboza rang the bell at the Sixers game last night and were nice enough to speak for a few minutes before tip-off:
Crossing Broad: Well, we’re at a basketball game, so I have to ask you if you like basketball. Kevin, you grew up playing the sport, right?
Kevin Lee: Yea, a little bit here and there, just because I’m from Detroit. Everybody does (laughs), but not too much. I realized one day I was taller than my dad and I was like, “let me go out for the wrestling team.”
Crossing Broad: Were you a Pistons fan growing up?
Lee: Yea, yea, big Pistons fan. I’ve got a lot of friends who play for the Pistons, so I have to root for them. But I guess I’ll go for the Sixers tonight.
Crossing Broad: What do you make of this Sixers team? Are you familiar at all? Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, the process?
Lee: I’ve heard bits and pieces, but to be honest, I don’t follow them enough. If I’m gonna talk some shit, it’s gonna be where I know what I’m talking about (laughs).
Crossing Broad: Fair enough! Edson, are you a basketball fan?
Edson Barboza: Not really, being from Brazil I didn’t watch too much.
Crossing Broad: We’ve had some Brazilian guys in the league recently, Nene, Anderson Varejao..
Barboza: Yea, yea, a couple of guys. When I moved to South Florida I started watching a little more. I really don’t pay too much attention though.
Crossing Broad: Did you watch the Miami Heat when you were down there?
Barboza: Yea, yea I think it’s actually my favorite sport to watch in the U.S. I try to watch football, and baseball, but nah. Basketball’s fun though, I like it.
Crossing Broad: Atlantic City next month.. you’ve fought there a couple of times. What did you make of your fights there? Did you enjoy it down there?
Barboza: Yea, of course. I just go to my house, get the car, drive it a couple of minutes and come back! I loved it. I felt like I was fighting at home.
Crossing Broad: Kevin, what do you think about fighting in Atlantic City?
Lee: I mean, this is kind of my first sneak peek at it, looks like a nice little city. This is my first time here. But I’m used to going over and fighting other guys in their home towns, so I feel like that will be to my advantage by the time the fight rolls around.
Crossing Broad: There’s actually a lot of MMA history in Atlantic City. New Jersey was the first state to adopt the unified rules of mixed martial arts, and AC hosted a lot of UFC events in the early part of the 2000s. Guys like Georges St-Pierre and Randy Couture and B.J. Penn all fought there. Do you think about that at all? Is it cool to fight in a place that’s hosted some great events before?
Lee: I think there’s a huge history, actually in all combat sports. Joe Louis fought there I think, Tommy Hearns, Floyd Mayweather. We’re bringing that into MMA now, and Michigan fighters have always done well there so I’m leading the way.
Crossing Broad: Did you think about that, Edson, when you were there, that idea that a lot of great fighters have come through Atlantic City in the past?
Barboza: Yea, absolutely. It’s special, especially for me. I’ve had some very good luck over here and I hope April 21st will be the same thing as the other fights.
Crossing Broad: Last one for you guys. Obviously the big Philly MMA connection is Eddie Alvarez. He’s in your division. Would you take a fight with Eddie?
Lee: When it really boiled down to it, it was between Eddie or Edson. I chose Edson just because I thought he was going to to be a better challenge. Eddie, maybe not. We’ll see what Eddie does. It’s his city, but me and Eddie, I think we all know what’s gonna happen if we fight.
Crossing Broad: Edson would you fight Eddie if you really had to?
Barboza: Nah, Eddie is my brother. He’s my training partner and I’m with him every single day. The only guy I won’t fight in this division is Eddie. He’s my brother. He’s helped me a lot and he’s a really good friend.
Barboza is ranked as the 4th best lightweight while Lee is 7th.
The April 21st fight card also includes a middleweight bout between David Branch and Thiago Santos, and a bantamweight matchup with Aljamain Sterling and Brett Johns.
— Dave Sholler (@DaveSholler) March 13, 2018