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Bryan Barberena enters the Octagon in a welterweight fight during the UFC 276 event at T-Mobile Arena on July 02, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
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The ‘Bam Bam’ Mixtape, Vol. 1

Bryan Barberena’s Return To London And Middleweight Debut Channels Some Hip Hop Luminaries

Bryan Barberena usually lets his kids pick his walkout tracks, which explains why the Tennessee farm boy has made his way to the Octagon while singing along to various bops over the last couple years.

But this weekend, it might be time for the 34-year-old veteran to select the song that ushers him in, and given the way he’s framing this return to London on Saturday, there is one track that comes to mind, simply for the opening line: Jay-Z, The Black Album, Track 10.

“Allow me to re-introduce myself” booms Shawn Carter to open “Public Service Announcement,” an interlude on his classic “retirement” album from 2003, shouting a sentiment that has been a familiar refrain of the UFC veteran, who ventures up to middleweight to take on Makhmud Muradov on Saturday night at the O2 Arena, marking his second consecutive appearance in London.

Full UFC London Fight Card Preview 

“I saw the London card was announced and thought it was perfect, so immediately I thought, ‘I want to ask to go back,’ and then my wife was like, ‘You should ask to go back!’” Barberena said with a laugh when asked if this week’s return trip across the Atlantic was happenstance or a coordinated effort. “We were both like, ‘It’s redemption! We’re gonna go back and get some redemption,’ so that’s what the play was.

“I asked (UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard), ’Can I get on that London card’ and he said it was full, but ‘if anything opens up, I’ll let you know.’ That was a bummer, but he came back to me a couple weeks later and I got the matchup with Makhmud in London, and I was like, ‘Awesome! Perfect! Exactly what I wanted’ because I want to go back.

“I want to get my redemption there in London.”

Bryan Barberena Fight Week Interview | UFC London
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Bryan Barberena Fight Week Interview | UFC London
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Barberena made the trek to the English capital back in March, facing off with Gunnar Nelson in the middle of the UFC 286 main card. He didn’t make it out of the first round, succumbing to an armbar late in the frame, the second consecutive fight where he was taken down and ultimately submitted.

“It’s not so much about how that fight went, but these last couple fights, I’ve really put a lot of focus into what these guys like to do and focus on what they’re going to bring, and it’s really about realizing I just need to go out there and be myself,” he began, explaining both his desire to return to England and the reason that opening line from Jay-Z has been on his mind so much.

LONDON FREE FIGHTS: Marcin Tybura vs Greg Hardy | Tom Aspinall vs Serghei Spivac | Molly McCann vs Hannah Goldy

“When I’m myself, when I go out there and fight my fight, in my style — go out there and be myself — I end up beating them up, causing problems and causing a ruckus, so I plan on going out there and re-introducing myself.

“This time, it’s at 185 (pounds) so it’s going to be a re-introduction of “Bam Bam” and we’re ready to cause a ruckus.”

The shift in divisions comes after a 15-fight run at welterweight that saw Barberena post an 8-7 record while building a reputation as a perpetual tough out and grimy, all-action fighter in the 170-pound weight class.

Before his recent setbacks against Nelson and Rafael Dos Anjos, the overall-wearing battler had registered three straight victories, including back-to-backs wins over divisional stalwarts Matt Brown and “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler. Those marquee assignments and dream matchups kept Barberena from changing divisions earlier, but after lots of consideration and a couple setbacks, the time was right for the husky farmer to finally pull the trigger and move to middleweight.

Bryan Barberena reacts to his win over Robbie Lawler in a welterweight fight during the UFC 276 event
Bryan Barberena reacts to his win over Robbie Lawler in a welterweight fight during the UFC 276 event at T-Mobile Arena on July 02, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

“I’m not as small of a welterweight as people tend to believe or think,” began Barberena, detailing the myriad reasons that factored into his decision, including age, injuries, and the challenges of cutting weight given those first two things. “The exciting matchups were keeping me (at welterweight) and I was able to make the weight — I felt good going into every single one of those fights — but, ultimately, this is the best decision.

“I think I play right in,” he said when asked about his potential fit in his new surroundings. “Obviously there are some crazy-tall guys, big guys at ’85, but I feel like there are some big, tall guys at ’70, too, so I don’t think it makes that much of a difference.

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“I don’t walk around light. I don’t walk around small. I’m a big guy,” he added. “Being able to come down slower and really still be able to take in plenty of calories throughout camp has been a real game-changer, and I play right into the 185-pound division as far as stacking up with everybody.”

Saturday’s matchup with Muradov serves as a perfect introduction to the weight class for the travelling American, as the 33-year-old has registered three wins in five UFC starts, while brandishing a 25-8 record overall.

Though he enters the matchup on a two-fight skid, much like Barberena, he’d won 14 straight before that, including stoppage wins over Trevor Smith and Andrew Sanchez inside the Octagon.

Bryan Barberena kicks Rafael Dos Anjos of Brazil in a welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Amway Center on December 03, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Bryan Barberena kicks Rafael Dos Anjos of Brazil in a welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Amway Center on December 03, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

“I’ve had people tell me he’s a tough guy, and it’s like, ‘Good!’” Barberena said with a laugh. “I didn’t want to come into 185 and fight a non-tough guy. Everybody in the UFC is tough and apparently this guy is pretty dangerous, and I love that. Don’t give me this ordinary guy — give me the guy that everyone thinks is dangerous and is going to bring something to the table.

“He’s good. I like that he’s more of a striker. I’m sure he has a wrestling background, some kind of grappling background; he’s gonna be dangerous everywhere. He’s been in the division, he’s been at this weight, he knows how to move his body around and that’s fine — I’m just looking forward to going in there and smashing the guy; going in there, getting in his face and making it dirty, like I do.”

As fitting as the re-introduction line is to his current situation, there is also something deeper to it, as Barberena genuinely feels he got away from doing what he does best over these last couple outings after just being himself earned him the biggest wins of his career in the two fights prior.

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He’s not the first fighter to get away from the approach that brought him success in the past, and he certainly won’t be the last, but the good thing for Barberena — and maybe the bad thing for Muradov — is that he knows how it fix it and has every intention of doing just that on Saturday.

“I know in my heart and deep down that I belong,” he said earnestly. “I know that I am very dangerous and that I am one of the best fighters in the world — I know that — so it’s about keeping positive, keeping that attitude, keeping focused.

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“The biggest thing is to go in there and be me. I lost that in the last couple fights — I put a lot of focus on those guys and what they’re good at, where in the past, it was ‘go out there and have some fun, throw some hands, and if it goes to a grappling exchange, wrestle through, and get back up,’ not focused so much on ‘I’m gonna out-wrestle them or whatever.’

“If I go out there and do what I’m capable of, it’s going to cause problems and create openings,” he added. “It’s just about staying focused.”

And if he does that?

“Like I said, ‘Going in there and causing a ruckus!’ Give him a hard time from the moment we start until the fight ends.”

Now that I think about it, there might be an even better track selection for Barberena for this fight.

Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Track One… “Bring da Ruckus.”

UFC Fight Night: Aspinall vs Tybura took place live from the O2 Arena in London, England on July 22, 2023. See the Final ResultsOfficial Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass