Raoni Barcelos

Raoni Barcelos: Aging Out of Competition

The fight had been tough. Raoni Barcelos stood Mike Beltran after a hard fought fight with Timur Valiev hoping to have his hand raised. But Valiev had beat Barcelos to the punch all night. He was faster, stronger, and simply better than the Brazilian. Barcelos had not lost a fight in six years dating back to 2014. His run in the UFC was undefeated, but Valiev was the better man on the night in the judges eyes, winning by majority decision.

Raoni Barcelos joined the UFC in 2017 at 30 and his inaugural fight would spell what would he of his entire UFC run. Boston Salmon pulled out due to a knee injury. But, Barcelos was in and he was ready to tear through the UFC. A highly credentialed BJJ player, wrestling national champion and a Muay Thai competitor, Barcelos was the complete package. Sure he was a year or two old for the bantamweight division, but it wasn’t too late to make a run at the title. But the problem was one he couldn’t have expected: Raoni Barcelos was too good coming into the UFC.

Surely that’s not a thing though. The UFC is about the best fighting the best. Jon Jones and Khabib Nurmagomedov always fought the number one contender when they reigned over their division. GSP never ducked a fight either. While the best fighting the best may be the case at the top, coming through the ranks is not quite the same situation. While there are the occasional hot prospect matchups like the first Poirier-Holloway fight, often times being too good for your own good can hurt your career, much like Barcelos has endured so far.

The problem lies in Father Time. Fighters age and their best years come and go. It’s up to them to put themselves in an opportunity to seize the best fights for them when they are peaking in their prime. While skill and hard work are certainly the majority of what makes a champion, this timing is also incredibly important. You have to be good, but not so good to where nobody will fight you coming up because you’re a threat to their timing.

Raoni Barcelos: A Prime Example

Raoni Barcelos is a prime example of matchmaking gone awry. He is a fantastic fighter who can’t get a ranked fight to save his life. At 5-0 in the UFC it was time. But now that he is 34, his skills have regressed slightly enough to matter. Barcelos averaged a seven month layoff in between fights when ideally you want to fight every four to five.

While a lot of Barcelos’ misfortune was due to matchmaking, some of it was just plain bad luck. His fight with Cody Stamann was canceled due to the pandemic. Merab Dvalishvili was rumored to be an opponent and the commissions said he isn’t ranked high enough and threatened to pull the fight. In the end, he was pulled due to still being under medical suspension from his last fight. The next fight was long-time contender Rafael Assuncao, who also withdrew. Then, Marcelo Rojo stepped in short notice and Raoni Barcelos contracted COVID. The man has had such bad luck.

Part of the Business

This issue is nothing new. When fighters and managers are trying to crack the top fifteen and even title shots, other fighters are avoided. The prime two examples are Francis N’Gannou and Kamaru Usman.

Coming through the ranks, Usman struggled to find fights. Everyone knew how good he was and Usman and his team struggled to get fights. As history shows us, he did and eventually won the title by taking any fight he could and getting fortunate enough to have some contenders say yes to fighting him.

N’Gannou was a bit different of a situation. He had fought for the title and got wrestled to death by Miocic. He wanted to fight and would take anyone. Problem was nobody would accept a fight with the heavy hitter. Eventually he fought Rozenstruick and made his way back. You know the rest.

Other up and comers have had this issue as well. Nobody is signing up to fight Ryan Hall. The risk in their teams eyes to fight someone like Hall or Barcelos is just too high. Same goes for Islam Makhachev. These fighters are unique. They are so good so early in their career that the powers that be, specifically the fighters with something to lose, have no reason to fight them.

The solution: there is none.

The real issue is that there hasn’t been an effective way to fix this. If you look to boxing, which has more infrastructure and years of a head start, it’s been only mitigated at the top. Fighters coming up, like Shakur Stevenson, the Charlo Brothers and Janibek Alimkhanuly cannot get meaningful fights to prove themselves as ready for the next level. They are, for all intents and purposes, boxed out.

As long as there’s contracts and no set schedule in mixed martial arts, which is impossible given the structure of the sport, this will always be an issue. Fans will have to appreciate a fighter like Raoni Barcelos. He might never be champion, but watching him perform will have to be watched for entertainment purposes.

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