It appears that the Zuffa brass decided that fight fans were due for another striker versus wrestler match up as we see the Muay Thai power house Edson Barboza take on Team Alpha Male’s wrestling based Danny Castillo. A victory for either fighter could result in a crack at the top 10 in the jam packed lightweight division. The fight takes place this Saturday at UFC on FOX 9 – here’s our breakdown of the fight!

Edson Barboza (12-1 MMA, 6-1 UFC) vs. Danny Castillo (16-5 MMA, 6-2 UFC)

Two lightweights will face off in hopes of earning a top 10 match up. Edson Barboza is looking for his third win in a row since losing the first of his to Jamie Varner career back in 2012 following a 10 fight undefeated streak. In that undefeated streak he earned three Fight of the Night honors, and included was a Knockout of the Year honor with his spinning wheel kick over Terry Etim. He’s finished his last two fights with his most recent being a TKO via low kicks over Rafaello Oliveira.

His opponent, Danny Castillo, is also looking for his third win in a row after earning two straight decision wins following his KO loss to Michael Johnson. While he suffered a loss, many people credit that loss due to over confidence which grew from his success in the first round. Ultimately, what this fight is going to come down to is who can impose their strengths on their opponent first.

Barboza [-295] makes his game plans very obvious – he’s going to stand with you, stalk you down, kick out your legs, and set up fight ending high kicks. Of his eight knock outs, three of them were finished by low kicks. While he does have two recorded submission victories, one came by way of punches. Barboza is one of the most exciting fighters in the division – his loss to Varner took away a lot of his momentum and unfortunately deprived fight fans of many exciting top 10 match ups (Barboza versus Cerrone has Fight of the Night written all over it) but he shows no signs of being deterred given his recent performances.

Barboza is one of the most talented strikers in the division using his Muay-Thai skills to carry him to an impressive 12-1 record. Barboza has shown a great ability to defend against take downs against his opponents thus far and has displayed a very impressive balance. While he hasn’t faced many fighters with the strengths of Castillo, he remains the favorite for good reason. Because of his balance, he should be able to keep this fight largely on the feet if he is able to keep his composure and keep his back off the cage.

Barboza’s Keys to Victory:

  • Distance – Barboza needs to prevent Castillo from closing the distance by using his lateral movement, circling off the cage and moving side to side. Backing straight up will allow Castillo to apply pressure against the cage cutting him off for the take down.
  • High Kicks, Not Low Kicks -This may sound crazy given Barboza’s success with low kicks, but Castillo possesses the skills to counter a strategy built around them. Barboza doesn’t set up his low kicks much but rather throws them by themselves, so an astute fighter can pick up on them. High kicks, on the other hand, cannot be countered but only blocked and it only takes a couple getting through to end things.
  • Takedown Defense – It’s not very likely Castillo is going to want to stand with Barboza for too long. Avoiding the take down and preventing Castillo from fighting his fight is key. Barboza has good balance which will assist him in Varner’s clinch-style of wrestling.

Castillo [+260] has faced a similar opponent in Anthony Njokuani (someone who Barboza faced and defeated in one of the best technical striking match ups we’ve seen in the UFC) and was able to squeek out a split decision. In that fight, Castillo wasted no time in trying to apply pressure against the cage and shoot in for take downs smothering Njokuani. While he was criticized for his performance, he offered no apologies and will likely try and employ a similar strategy against Barboza.

Varner was able to open up holes in Barboza’s striking allowing him to land a fight ending flurry almost entirely due to the threat of the take down. Castillo will also be able to apply added pressure because of the take down but it isn’t likely he will be able to find the same success striking. While Castillo is now training under the tutelage of Duane Ludwig (who has dramatically increased the level of striking at Team Alpha Male) it isn’t likely he’ll try and test it too much against a guy of Barboza’s level. However, as Castillo’s wrestling success comes more so in the clinch than in a power double leg he will have to close the distance with strikes.

Castillo’s Keys to Victory:

  • Takedowns from the Clinch – As mentioned, Castillo’s wrestling success comes more so from his ability to drag fighters down in the clinch. He doesn’t have as much success with a power double so closing the distance and wrestling against the cage is his best bet.
  • Right Hand – Castillo’s striking isn’t anywhere near as technical as Barboza. However, he does find success with his right hand. He was able to badly hurt Johnson and he stopped Ricardo Lamas with a right. If he is able to open up holes in Barboza’s striking defense like Varner, he may find a home for his right hand.
  • Counter the Low Kicks – Low kicks can be countered two ways – with a straight right, or by catching them and securing a take down. Castillo is capable of both.

Prediction: Edson Barboza defeats Danny Castillo via knock out

While Castillo appears to have the tools that could pose a huge threat to Barboza, I do not believe he has the prowess to pull it off. Barboza has the balance, the strength, and the take down awareness to defend Castillo’s efforts of getting the fight to the ground. He’s likely learned enough from the Varner out come to prevent Castillo from being able to replicate the result, so expect Barboza to circle off the cage and pick Castillo apart. While low kicks are some of his best tools and will certainly help him win this fight should he use them carefully, I believe that he will finish the fight using high kicks. Low kicks could get Barboza into trouble and he needs to throw many of them to get fight ending results (which, in turn, creates more opportunity for Castillo), whereas high kicks can only be blocked and it takes few of them to end the fight.