There’s putting your best foot forward, and then there’s what Bryan Barberena and Vicente Luque did on Feb. 17.
UFC Phoenix marked the promotion’s first main card to be broadcast on ESPN television and the main card’s second fight was an all-time barnburner between Barberena and Luque, two welterweights determined to smash each other into oblivion. Luque picked up the TKO-victory with just six seconds remaining in the final round, but both men were awarded $50,000 Fight of the Night bonuses and showered with praise following the spirited encounter.
MMA Fighting spoke to Barberena just a few days after his fight and other than being “sore in some spots” he felt that he was in good condition. It was reported Wednesday that Barberena was one of 10 fighters (including Luque) from Sunday’s show to be given six-month medical suspensions. The 29-year-old hopes to be cleared to compete sooner than that after taking some time to rest.
Having had a chance to rewatch the fight, Barberena shared his thoughts on how the experience was as one of the parties involved.
“Overall, I thought I threw down,” Barberena said. “Vicente, he stood up, he stood with me. He stood with me and he took everything I had and gave it back. I respect him a ton and I just have nothing but good things to say about him. He didn’t take some shots and start shooting for takedowns or anything like that. I thought he might, but he didn’t. He stood there and he just threw ‘em right back.
“Nothing but respect for him, it was a hell of a fight, a hell of a war, and it’s exactly what I love. Those are the kind of fights I dream about.”
Per ufcstats.com, Barberena and Luque combined to land over 330 significant strikes and there were at least a few dozen that looked like they had enough of an impact to end almost any other fight.
Ten of Barberena’s 14 wins have come by way of knockout, so he’s no stranger to knowing what it means to land flush on an opponent’s chin. It’s a sensation he felt several times in his bout with Luque. The problem is that Luque didn’t cooperate and go down like he was supposed to.
“I felt like I landed some hard shots to the point where I was like, that had to have hurt him,” Barberena said. “I’ve got to just hit him a couple more times and he’s gonna fall. And I’m sure he felt the same way about me. But he just didn’t. He just didn’t fall.
“So I was like I gotta just keep hitting this guy and eventually he’s gonna fall and he just kept standing there and throwing right back.”
Even given his reputation as an action fighter, Barberena places the fight with Luque at the very top of his list of the most exciting fights he’s ever been in. Making it more enjoyable for him is the fact that there was no bad blood between him and Luque. The two were friendly and respectful to each other throughout the week and remained so after bludgeoning each other for 15 minutes.
They had a lot to be proud of. Not just for the Fight of the Night award they won, but the show they put on for a potentially fresh audience tuning in on ESPN. Reminded of this fact, Barberena joked, “You’re welcome, ESPN,” and considered the impact that his fight could have on building the UFC on ESPN brand.
“This was the first main ESPN card, it was huge. And for us to go out there and put on a performance like that, I think it raised the bar for ESPN,” Barberena said. “I think people who are just tuning in and watched the fight and even fans who have been watching forever have waited for a fight like this and they got it. I think it’s going to help expand the sport a lot just from this fight alone.”
The only thing more memorable than Barberena’s performance might have been his choice of walkout music. Barberena entered the arena to the children’s song, Baby Shark, one of the most viewed videos in YouTube history. It was a stark departure from the usual fighter music, to say the least, and Barberena owes it to his children for the inspired choice.
“My kids love that song, so they’re always singing it,” Barberena said. “I kind of thought about walking out to it and my coach Jeff was like, ‘Dude, you should walk out to that song,’ because we had been singing it throughout camp because my kids sing it all the time and it’s always stuck in my head. … I came home and I was like, you know what, I should walk out to that song.
“I told my kids, I was like, ‘What do you guys think about me walking out to Baby Shark?’ and they were like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah!’”
Barberena gets to spend even more time with his family now that he’s joined the Gym-O team in Gastonia, N.C., which is much closer to his home just outside of Knoxville, Tenn. For his last fight, a first-round TKO of Jake Ellenberger last August, Barberena split time between the MMA Lab in Glendale, Ariz., and Gym-O, before deciding to make a permanent move back east.
Initially, Barberena told the UFC he was going to walk out to the same song as he did for the Ellenberger fight, but decided to ask them if he could change it and Baby Shark was approved without any fuss. Add in the fact that his kids would be in attendance to watch him fight in Phoenix, and the move was a no-brainer.
“It was for my kids, they love that song and I’m all about my family and they’re the most important thing to me,” Barberena said. “So to give them a walkout song — and they were at the fights, so it was even that much sweeter.”