New Blood

KEY VICTORIES: Anthony Njokuani, Mike Lullo, Marcelo Guidici
WEIGHT CLASS: 155 lbs.
AGE: 25

An MMA fight doesn’t often end as a direct result of leg kicks to the body. However, that’s exactly what happened when Edson Barboza, Jr. was granted his big chance at UFC 123: Rampage vs. Machida. Showing a solid mix of striking and grappling in the opening round, Barboza began using leg kicks in the second stanza to chop away at opponent Mike Lullo, who was also making his UFC debut. Barboza continued his assault in round three, delivering a series of crushing low kicks to Lullo’s thighs that sent him crashing to the canvas a mere 26 seconds into the round. Lullo was down for good, and the fight was mercifully ended.

For anyone that knows Barboza’s Muay Thai background, the power he displayed in his UFC debut was not surprising. Barboza won 25 of his 28 Muay Thai fights in Brazil, with 22 of those victories via (T)KO. However, after a successful Muay Thai campaign, Barboza realized that his career would be better served by a move to mixed martial arts, and, in turn, a move to the United States. He landed at The Armory in Jupiter, Fla., which is also the home of fellow UFC fighter Luiz Cane.

The move to The Armory proved to be a great choice for Barboza. Instead of solely relying on his Muay Thai expertise, The Armory has helped Barboza round out his already considerable grappling prowess. He currently holds a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Although he’s only been active in MMA for about two years, Barboza is quickly making waves.

He tore through his first five opponents (four KO wins, one submission) to line up a title shot against Marcelo Guidici in Ring of Combat, the premier regional promotion in the Northeast. Like he would later do to Lullo at UFC 123, Barboza buzz-sawed Guidici, cutting his legs out from under him for a TKO stoppage just three minutes into the fight. He became the Ring of Combat Lightweight Champion and earned a birth into the UFC before he could even defend the belt.

After chopping down Lullo, Barboza was called back to action against fellow striker Anthony Njokuani. The two were expected to throw down some heavy blows at UFC 128 in March, and they didn’t disappoint. While both men got their shots in, Barboza’s style was cleaner, and he landed several punches that wobbled Njokuani. In the end, neither fighter could put the other away, but Barboza proved he belonged in the big leagues, earning a 29-28 decision on all three scorecards and upping his record to an unblemished 8-0.

Barboza is scheduled to face Takanori Gomi at UFC: Rio on Aug. 27 in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. If Barboza hopes to remain undefeated, he will need to avoid the KO power of the former Pride Lightweight Champion.

WEIGHT CLASS: 185 lbs.
AGE: 27
COUNTRY: United States
NICKNAME: The Predator

With his ferocious fighting style and flowing dreads, it’s easy to see why Ohio’s Brian Rogers is nicknamed “The Predator.” The middleweight made everyone in attendance at Strikeforce: Feijao vs. Henderson take notice as he blasted through opponent Ian Rammel before donning his Predator mask to celebrate with the hometown crowd.

A former linebacker from North Canton, Ohio, Rogers is a fighter that everyone pays attention to, either because of his fighting style or the way he talks. The 27-year-old knows exactly what he wants to do in the sport of MMA, and he’s ready to conquer those goals. Rogers has spent much of his early career working out of Ohio-based promotions, but he made his Strikeforce debut in March and hopes to build on that momentum. He’s had a taste of The Ultimate Fighter tryouts a couple of times, but that unfortunately hasn’t materialized.

“I’ve been close to being on TUF a few times,” says Rogers. “I think I’m good enough to compete with any of the middleweights that have been on that show. Believe it or not, people tell me that I’m one of the most exciting fighters around, but every time I go to the TUF auditions, I get told I’m too boring. I think it’s because I say a lot of complete sentences, like I’m not dumb enough for it or something.”

Rogers may not have to go the TUF route after his arrival in Strikeforce. From the splashy tuxedo shorts he wore at the weighins to his vicious TKO win at the show, Rogers is a fighter and a showman. He understands how the game of MMA works, and he’s happy to show off when it’s necessary.

Growing up a karate practitioner, Rogers moved to football and other sports before becoming bored. His competitive nature led him to MMA. Now, Rogers feels he is ready to make the jump to the next level. Training out of the Strong Style Fight Team in Ohio, Rogers isn’t looking to get lost in the mix of a bigger camp, and he has no plans of leaving his home state. As a matter of fact, he’s so confident in the team he has in Ohio that he’s put an open challenge down to any other Midwestern team that wants to face off with his guys.

“I’m not one to call anybody out, but I’ve always just wanted to be the best middleweight in Ohio, and then be the best middleweight in the Midwest, and then get on the national scene,” says Rogers. “I feel like I’m on the verge of doing that.”

RECORD: 8-1-1
WEIGHT CLASS: 135 lbs.
AGE: 29
COUNTRY: United States

When 145-pound Brandon Garner started fighting professionally in 2005, there weren’t a lot of options for a guy his size, other than stepping up to take fights at 155 pounds or above. World Extreme Cage fighting forever changed that when they began featuring lighter weight classes, and the UFC blasted the door wide open when it absorbed the WEC in 2010, adding featherweights (145 lbs.) and bantamweights (135 lbs.) to its roster.

Even though Garner hasn’t fought for the WEC or UFC, the acceptance of lighter weight classes has opened doors in other promotions, leaving him able to fight at his natural weight. With an overall record of 8-1-1, Garner debuted at 155 pounds. Although he lost his first professional bout to Mike Boyd, Garner went on to defeat UFC veteran Jason Dent, and he then avenged the loss to Boyd before dropping down to 145 pounds.

An accomplished grappler and brown belt under Royce Gracie, Garner isn’t afraid to unleash his hands, either. That’s not too surprising when you find out that he is also an Army Combatives instructor in hand-to-hand combat. In fact, he has been Strikeforce veteran Tim Kennedy’s wrestling coach for the past few years.

Though five of his victories have come by way of submission, Garner has spiced things up by knocking out his last two opponents. With his skills rounding out and his record blossoming with four straight victories following his draw with Ardak Nazarov, don’t be surprised if you see Brandon Garner on your radar sooner rather than later.

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