UFC Must Give Murphy Another Headliner

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On paper, not every UFC card is going to have the “Wow!” factor that will have people say “All right. This show looks good. Let me cancel my plans for tonight and watch this.” As mentioned in the past, while the highlight-reel knockouts are great to see and will grab the headlines every week, it’s fights like our focus here that are just as good.

Submitted for your approval: On Saturday night, No. 12 contender Edson Barboza (24-12 MMA, 18-12 UFC) met unbeaten Lerone Murphy (14-0-1 MMA, 6-0-1 UFC) in the UFC on ESPN+ 99 main event from the UFC Apex. The fight was the latter’s first headlining appearance since joining the UFC’s active roster in 2019.

If you missed the headliner because you were away from your phone, tablet, or computer or if you were just doing something else Saturday evening, you missed a good fight. In short, the fight was one-way traffic.

Lerone Murphy Survives Early Scare in UFC on ESPN+ 99 Main Event

After the action was halted momentarily by Herb Dean early in the opening round due to a low blow, Murphy absorbed a leg kick and the fighters exchanged shots. Late in the first, Murphy began counterstriking against Barboza, going for jabs as the round progressed.

In the round’s final seconds, Murphy secured top mount and landed some ground and pound shots before the horn blared to end the first five minutes, while eating a cut above the nose from Barboza, almost finishing the fight. Having been wobbled at the end of round one, Murphy continued to mix up his strikes early on in the second period, throwing in right-handed shots for good measure.

From there, Murphy went to cruise-control, wobbling the veteran Barboza in the process. With the tide turned, Barboza was forced to cover up, but it was to no avail thanks to Murphy leading in the clinch.

A Changing of the Guard

Save for a kick to the body, Edson Barboza couldn’t do anything offensively in round three of a scheduled five. Lerone Murphy simply outclassed his adversary in the famed Octagon on Saturday.

Murphy was a smart fighter in the cage this weekend, not letting Barboza even sniff a sliver of daylight. He adjusted his stance on the fly during the round to keep Barboza honest, fighting off a headlock from his opponent late in the period.

In round four, Edson Barboza looked like he was a man who knew he’d been defeated. His energy was completely zapped thanks to Murphy’s varied offensive attacks. Even though Barboza scored with some leg kicks, it was all Lerone Murphy, all the time, except for a spinning kick from Barboza.

Murphy Keeps His Foot on the Gas in Round Five

During the final round of the fight, Lerone Murphy never deviated from his plan of attack, landing crisp jabs en route to north of 200 strikes scored on the evening, continuing to switch his stance up and throwing in some grappling along the way. Upon Barboza landing a body shot with under two minutes remaining on the fifth-round clock, Murphy knew what he had to do: Dump Edson Barboza.

That takedown solidified the fight for the main event debutante, who secured four total over the course of the 25 minutes of action. When the final seconds of the fight ticked down, Brendan Fitzgerald, who was calling the blow-by-blow action for ESPN+, summed the contest up in the best way possible.

“When it comes to the best featherweights in the world, Lerone Murphy has entered the chat!”, Fitzgerald intoned. “He will stay unbeaten. England’s got another rising contender.”

Fitzgerald is right on the money with his comments. A main event spotlight is a career hallmark for any young prospect in the sport of MMA. Lerone Murphy handled the pressure of that spotlight with ease. The main event was named Fight of the Night during the post-fight press conference.

Give Credit Where It’s Due

In the aftermath of Saturday night’s main attraction, let’s give a round of applause to Edson Barboza for staying in the fight for its duration. Lerone Murphy showed himself, and has showed himself, to be a tough guy to go toe-to-toe with for 15 or 25 minutes inside the cage.

Any fighter who took a pounding from an opponent of Murphy’s caliber over the course of a five-round affair might have resigned on the stool between frames. Not Edson Barboza.

What’s Next for Lerone Murphy?

With the victory over Barboza still fresh in his mind, Lerone Murphy took to the podium during the aforementioned post-fight press conference to advocate for an even higher-profile fight next time out.

“I’m going to go and rest up,” Murphy said.  “I want to make that [UFC 304] card. There’s no rush, if not. I’d love to fight on there. But if not, I’ll be in attendance to watch the guys win, to watch “Rocky” [Leon Edwards] win, and watch all the rest of the guys. It’s a great card. …Whoever wants it, anybody in the top 10. I’m sure if you look at the names, the featherweight division is one of the best divisions.”

As of this writing, it’s the afternoon of May 19. UFC 304 in Manchester is set to take place on Saturday night, July 27. That’s 69 days from right now. It would be a quick turnaround between fights if Lerone Murphy is booked to appear on the show that night.

Final Thoughts

The notion of a turnaround of under 70 days for Murphy and his camp, while it may be possible ahead of UFC 304 later on this summer, isn’t a realistic one. He scored a win in the headlining bout this past weekend, so Sean Shelby‘s assignment as matchmaker is a cakewalk.

For Lerone Murphy’s next bout, he should fight in the same spot as his last one. Shelby even mentioned as much to Murphy backstage after the main event on Saturday.

“So it’s good to get that under my belt,” Murphy told the press. “…[It’s a] dream come true. I’d love to fight here again, and many more times, maybe in a big arena next time. Let’s see.”

Anything other than a main event next time out is a step down.

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Drew Zuhosky has been writing about combat sports since May of 2018, coming to MMASucka after stints at Overtime Heroics and Armchair All-Americans. A graduate of Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, Drew is a charter member of the Youngstown Press Club. Prior to beginning his professional career, Drew was a sportswriter for YSU's student-run newspaper, The Jambar, where he supplied Press Box Perspective columns every week.