Raoni Barcelos | Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC
Barcelos, who won a decision over Trevin Jones in his latest UFC bout in October 2022, said on this week’s episode of MMA Fighting podcast Trocação Franca that he’s ready for the “Khabib-style” grappling the 26-year-old prospect brings to the table.
“I fought Said Nurmagomedov and it was a smart fight, he was also undefeated and coming off a knockout, and I think this matchup is great for me,” Barcelos said. “I always go in there respecting my opponents, of course, but I’m thrilled with this fight because he’s super tough and has a name, has hype, and is undefeated. I need to fight people like that. I spent too much time fighting athletes that were debuting or still didn’t have a name as strong as he does.”
Barcelos, who beat the likes of Kurt Holobaugh and Chris Gutierrez in the UFC, feels that facing a 15-0 talent that is related to retired MMA star Khabib Nurmagomedov “takes the pressure away from me.”
“Thank you UFC for giving me this fight,” he said. “I think my life, my history, my career can change with this fight. That’s why I was so happy. I fought three months ago and my evolution was way faster since we got back to camp so quickly. This opportunity has everything to change my career, get to No. 11 in the rankings and closer to the top 10.”
The experienced Brazilian wants to make a statement with a win in the first UFC card of 2023 and revisit an old booking with Merab Dvalishvili. The two were briefly linked to compete in November 2020, but Barcelos wasn’t cleared by the doctors since he had just beaten Khalid Taha in a 15-minute “Fight of the Night” one month before.
“Merab challenged me years before and he’s well-ranked, he beat Jose Aldo in his last fight, so it’s a name worth mentioning,” Barcelos said. “I know he’s way ahead [in the rankings] and I’ll probably be in No. 11 with a win, but fighting him would bring me a lot of hype.”
The other reason behind the callout, Barcelos explained, is that Dvallishvili will likely never challenge UFC champion and teammate Aljamain Sterling for the 135-pound belt, so he’s in sort of a limbo in the division.
“That’s why he was the first name that came to mind,” Barcelos said. “He’s top 3 and I don’t think he’ll take this fight because it’s a very difficult one for him. Let’s see what happens first [at UFC Vegas 67] and then we can use the best strategy possible to continue climbing [the rankings].”