Edson Barboza was able to justify his position at the top of a packed UFC lightweight division on Saturday (Photo Credit: UFC Twitter)

With an unrivalled talent pool and some of the sport’s biggest names, the UFC’s lightweight division can be a tough place for a fighter to gain the attention necessary to establish himself as a legitimate contender. But at Saturday’s UFC Milwaukee, Edson Barboza didn’t have that problem.

While unfairly shunned by the UFC bonus gods despite his undeniably impressive win over top-15 newcomer Dan Hooker, Barboza made a statement on Saturday night that was heard throughout the division. Yes, that statement was immediately overshadowed by the one Al Iaquinta made with his unanimous-decision win over Kevin Lee in the evening’s headliner. But Barboza’s performance deserves plenty of recognition.

For the second time in less than 10 days, a badly beaten fighter left the Octagon looking like one of the roster’s toughest. At last week’s UFC 231, it was the seemingly-indestructible Brian Ortega who upped his stock despite dropping a lop-sided bout to reigning featherweight champion Max Holloway. This time around it was Hooker, who willingly ate every one of Barboza’s brutal blows to the body and countless strikes to the head before collapsing in the bout’s third and final round.

Following a pair of consecutive losses to fourth-ranked Lee and reigning lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, Barboza’s status as a top-five contender was questioned heading into Saturday’s showdown with Hooker. Although ranked 14th, the New Zealander was actually favoured over Barboza according to oddsmakers, a painfully obvious miscalculation that undoubtedly cost gamblers and left the Brazilian looking like an unstoppable underdog to the misinformed.

But the harsh reality of his position within the UFC’s lightweight division may cut Barboza’s celebration short due to his costly losses to Lee and Nurmagomedov. Obviously, Lee’s loss to Iaquinta helps the Brazilian to some degree, but it doesn’t erase the fact that Lee handed Barboza a decisive loss just eight months ago.

With third-ranked Dustin Poirier currently eyeing a fight with anyone ranked higher than himself, Tony Ferguson likely to land a crack at Nurmagomedov’s crown and the usual uncertainty surrounding Conor McGregor, Barboza probably won’t find himself facing one of those three his next time out.

At this point, a rematch with Lee or even a date with Iaquinta may be Barboza’s best bet to re-enter the division’s title discussion. It’s worth noting that the rankings many of us follow on the UFC’s website are compiled by members of the media rather than the promotion itself–which explains some of the more puzzling matchups we’ve seen in the past.

However, regardless of what’s next for Barboza, he didn’t hurt his standing in the lightweight title discussion with Saturday night’s performance. And after an accomplished fighter like Hooker struggled to survive the Brazilian’s offensive onslaught, you can bet that anyone with a legitimate shot at the 155-pound title will be watching Barboza’s next move.

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