Edson Barboza was ready for a fresh start.
That’s the easiest way to explain why the top 10 ranked lightweight contender decided to move from New Jersey to Florida earlier this year to begin training at the famed American Top Team academy in Coconut Creek.
Now there’s no secret why so many fighters choose American Team as their home.
The gym has produced a long list of champions for promotions such as the UFC and Bellator not to mention a world class facility filled with top contenders and hungry up and comers. Add to that, American Top Team boasts a slew of coaches rather than just one or two people trying to lead a gym with hundreds of professional fighters walking through the doors everyday.
Still, Barboza had been part of the team led by head coach Mark Henry for quite some time and he bonded with teammates such as Eddie Alvarez and Frankie Edgar while working there over the years.
As much as he loved the team and his coaches, Barboza just felt like the time was right to return to Florida to reinvigorate his training and preparation ahead of his next fight.
“When I moved to the U.S. I moved to Florida. I was living for a couple of years in Jupiter, in Palm Beach, Florida, and I loved the weather and I made a lot of friends,” Barboza explained when speaking to MMAWeekly. “Then I decided to move to New Jersey, I was there for two and a half years and I was talking to my manager Alex [Davis] and he never told me to come back and train at ATT but a lot of things happened in Jersey and I decided to come back to Florida.
“My Muay Thai coach, Anderson Franca, he moved to the U.S. and he started teaching kickboxing at ATT. I asked him how was the gym going, how was everything and he said everything was going well. I decided to move back to Florida, I talked to my wife, I talked to my coach and I talked to my manager and I had a lot of friends at American Top Team. I talked to the guys and said this was the best choice for me to go back to Florida.”
Prior to his mixed martial arts career, Barboza was a ferocious Muay Thai practitioner and the chance to once again work with the coach who taught him the art of eight limbs was too enticing to pass up.
Beyond his Muay Thai coach, Barboza has a huge group of instructors hungry to work with him and make him better each and every day he steps into the gym.
“That’s very important,” Barboza said about the coaching staff. “I train with everybody. I train with wrestling with [Steve] Mocco, I train with Mike Brown, Katel Kubis help me with my striking. My Muay Thai coach is here. I have 1,000 guys here and one thing I really love, everybody tries to help each other.
“Everybody, all the coaches, they all try to help everybody. I love it.”
Perhaps the deciding factor in Barboza’s return to Florida and joining up with American Top Team was the kind of work he’s be getting in daily with a massive group of training partners from around the world.
In his own weight class, Barboza gets the chance to spar with the likes of Dustin Poirier, Will Brooks or Leandro ‘Buscape’ Silva. On other days, Barboza could be working alongside Jorge Masvidal, Santiago Ponzinibbio or Thiago Alves.
“I think that for me, that’s the most important right now,” Barboza said. “I’m training with high level guys and 1,000 different guys. If I need a skinny, small guy I have this. If I need a tall, strong guy, I have this. Every size, every power, everything. It’s a lot of different guys. The gym is full.”
While he’s no longer a member of the New Jersey based team led by Henry, Ricardo Almeida, Nick Catone and others, Barboza says that there was no ill will whatsoever when he decided to move back to Florida.
“I love those guys there,” Barboza said. “I love my coach over there in New Jersey. I talked to my coach Mark [Henry] and he said it’s like a family. Sometimes the kids grow up, one guy goes one way, one guy goes another way, but it’s still family. That’s how I feel with the guys there.”
This weekend Barboza has the opportunity to show how the training at American Top Team is paying off when he faces surging lightweight contender Dan Hooker in the co-main event at UFC on FOX from Milwaukee.
Technically, Barboza is stepping into the contest after two tough losses to Khabib Nurmagomedov and Kevin Lee, but he’s not looking at this fight as some kind of do-or-die moment for his spot amongst the elite lightweights in the UFC.
More than anything, Barboza’s mission on Saturday night is more personal and he’s not looking to make a statement in his fight to anybody but himself.
“I think it needs to be for me,” Barboza explained. “I’ve not had a hard time this year but I need to prove to me, prove to myself. I don’t need to prove to nobody but I have to be there, I have to win and I’m going to win to prove that I’m one of the best guys in the world.”