Bryan Barberena relishes the role of spoiler

You may have been surprised at the result of Bryan Barberena’s fight against Sage Northcutt on a UFC on Fox card earlier this year.

After all, Northcutt looked like the next big star in the UFC. He was supposed to follow in the footsteps of fighters like Ronda Rousey, Conor McGregor and Paige VanZant – fighters handpicked by UFC President Dana White to be huge stars for his company to build around. So when Barberena submitted Northcutt in the second round of their fight in January, it was considered a shocking upset.

But you know who wasn’t shocked? Barberena.

“Nothing really surprised me about that fight,” Barberena said. “I knew he would come out hard and fast and try for a takedown. I heard he actually handpicked me as an opponent because his team thought he would beat me. He underestimated me.”

Barberena (11-3) stepped in on eight days notice to fight Northcutt after his original opponent withdrew due to injury. Although he only had eight days to prepare for the highly-touted Northcutt, Barberena and his team didn’t exactly go through a crash course to prepare.

“I saw his fights, so I knew a little about him, but I didn’t work on anything in particular,” Barberena said. “I focused on me and things like my footwork.”

Barberena trains at the MMA Lab in Arizona with fighters like former UFC lightweight champion and current Bellator lightweight Benson Henderson, as well as Rick Story, Mike de la Torre and Jon Tuck. Barberena describes his team as a “room full of killers.”

“I’m working with guys like Benson Henderson and guys who will be in the UFC,” he said. “We’re pushing every day and getting better.”

After Barberena’s victory over Northcutt, he gave an impassioned speech to the crowd alluding to the assumption that he was just a pushover for Northcutt. In fact, Barberena was the biggest betting underdog on that card.

“It was just another day for me, but it was a little sweet too,” Barberena said of his victory over Northcutt. “It gave me a little smile.”

Barberena joined Nate Diaz, Holly Holm and Rose Namajunas as fighters who derailed the hype train of highly touted fighters. Diaz defeated McGregor at UFC 196 in March, while Holm and Namajunas dethroned Rousey and VanZant, respectively, last year.

“They’re always going to pick people who stand out with their physique and skill to bring in more attention,” Barberena said of the UFC. “But it kind of sucks for the other fighters. I just keep trying to get W’s, but if they offered me that kind of deal, I would take it in a second.”

Barberena will get another chance to knock off a highly-touted prospect when he faces the undefeated Warlley Alves (10-0) at UFC 198 on May 14 in Brazil. Alves won the middleweight bracket of the third season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil in 2014, but is fighting Barberena at welterweight. Alves is coming off back-to-back guillotine choke submission victories.

“He’s definitely a good fighter and well-skilled everywhere,” Barberena said of Alves. “He tries to push the pace, which is my kind of fight.”

UFC 198 will also be Barberena’s first experience fighting in Brazil, and he can’t wait for the experience of fighting in a soccer stadium.

“The fans probably won’t cheer for me,” Barberena said. “But while hearing those chants will be awesome, it’s going to be even better when I silence them.”

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Chris Huntemann
Chris Huntemann writes about mixed martial arts in the state of Maryland. He also opines on all things UFC, Bellator, World Series of Fighting and any other MMA topics he cares to bloviate about. You should check out his blog, or his Twitter. Or both. When he's not watching MMA, he's an avid fan of other sports, such as football, baseball and college basketball. He may or may not do other, non-sports-related things as well.

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