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Lerone Murphy of England poses for a post fight portrait backstage during the UFC Fight Night at The O2 Arena on July 22, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)
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Lerone Murphy Primed To Test Himself

Unbeaten British Featherweight Ready To See Where He Stands In Main Event Clash With Edson Barboza

Generally speaking, when a fighter reaches four, five, six fights in the UFC without suffering a loss, the buzz around them has built to a point where the whispers about their upside that started earlier in their run have grown loud enough to be heard by all.

When the fighter in question hasn’t lost at all and their overall unbeaten streak has crept into double digits, they are usually being talked about as a serious person of interest in their weight class.

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That hasn’t necessarily been the case for Manchester’s Lerone Murphy, who enters his first appearance of 2024 unbeaten in six UFC starts and sporting a 13-0-1 record overall, but feeling like a bit of an unheralded talent in the treacherous featherweight ranks.

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“I get it,” Murphy began when asked about flying slightly under the radar ahead of his main event pairing with Edson Barboza this weekend at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas. “People like to back people with more momentum, people fighting three, four times a year.

“I get it, but it’s not my fault,” continued the unbeaten Brit, who debuted in the fall of 2019, fought once in 2020, and missed all of 2022 before having to withdraw from his first assignment of this year in January opposite Dan Ige. “I’m not sitting about partying, doing whatnot; I’m trying to fight, but things have gotten in the way. I feel like everything happens for a reason and I wasn’t meant to fight, and that’s it.

Lerone Murphy of England celebrates after his knockout victory over Makwan Amirkhani of Finland in a featherweight fight during the UFC 267 event at Etihad Arena on October 30, 2021 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Lerone Murphy of England celebrates after his knockout victory over Makwan Amirkhani in a featherweight fight during the UFC 267 event at Etihad Arena on October 30, 2021 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

“A bigger opportunity has come to me now, and let’s see what happens with this. Time will tell,                                                                                            and I feel like life unfolds in a way where everything is just meant to happen, all the pieces fit together. I’m just enjoying the journey.”

Others that have been in Murphy’s position might have grown bitter, frustrated by the staccato nature of their schedule and the overall inability to sustain any tangible momentum despite stringing together five straight wins and a six-fight unbeaten streak.

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To have gone 14 bouts without suffering a loss and watch as others that have stumbled in the past or been around for less time have raced by you in the divisional ranks, bumping you from the rankings and shuffling you into “Oh yeah — I had forgotten about him” territory despite your overall successes could serve to magnify those feelings of frustration in a different individual.

But with Murphy, he has simply taken it all in stride — accepting it for what it is, pulling out the positives from every situation, and focusing exclusively on the task at hand and how it propels him closer to his goal.

Free Fight | Lerone Murphy vs Makwan Amirkhani
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Free Fight | Lerone Murphy vs Makwan Amirkhani
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“My career has been a bit stop-and-start; I’ve only had six fights with the UFC in four years,” offered Murphy, who posted decision wins over Gabriel Santos and Joshua Culibao in a pair of appearances in London last year. “Obviously I’ve been through a lot, I’ve had a lot of ups-and-downs in my career, but I’m happy where I am.

“I’m fighting Edson Barboza — a classic, legend of the sport who was fighting in the UFC from before I even done MMA, so I have to look at that and be realistic and say I’ve done well to get to this point now.

“But that’s not where we’re stopping,” he added quickly. “We’re aiming for the top. I’ve been working hard and I’m not gonna stop until I get to the top. That’s my dream. That’s my goal.”

Though he’s accepting of the twists and turns that have been the staples of his UFC career to date, the talented British featherweight is also acutely aware that time is of the essence.

Lerone Murphy's Knockout Knee
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Lerone Murphy's Knockout Knee
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“I’ve been feeling like that for two, three years!” he said with a laugh when asked if he carries a different sense of urgency into his high profile 2024 debut. “Like I said, everything happens for a reason.

“Now I’m at the level where I needed to be to be fighting these guys. Now I’m at that level, so everything — God puts them speed bumps in the road (to tell me), ‘Slow down; you’re not ready yet. Do a bit more work.’ I feel like a different version of me was gonna come out in the Ige fight. I picked up on a few things from the Culibao fight that I’ve been working on, and I feel like I’ve leveled up in all areas.”

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Saturday’s pairing with Barboza feels like the perfect pairing, the perfect opportunity, at the perfect time for the promising, undefeated Manchester Top Team man.

Few fighters, if any, have fought a more difficult slate over the course of their careers than Barboza, who will be making his 30th appearance inside the Octagon this weekend. A long-time contender in the lightweight division, he’s remained a stalwart in the featherweight ranks since moving down in weight in 2020, adding bouts against tough outs like Ige, Shane Burgos, Bryce Mitchell and Billy Quarantillo to a resume that already included appearances against Beneil Dariush, Anthony Pettis, Khabib Nurgmagomedov, and Justin Gaethje, to name just a few.

Lerone Murphy of England reacts after defeating Josh Culibao of Australia in their featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night at The O2 Arena on July 22, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Lerone Murphy of England reacts after defeating Josh Culibao of Australia in their featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night at The O2 Arena on July 22, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

The main event matchup is, in some ways, a replica of Barboza’s last appearance in October, when he faced off with another emerging featherweight in need of a major test, Sodiq Yusuff, and showed he’s still a tough out for anyone looking to climb the ranks at his expense.

“Experience won that fight; it wasn’t ability,” Murphy said of Barboza’s come-from-behind win over Yusuff, where he was rocked in the early stages of the opening round but managed to steady himself and collect a unanimous decision victory in the end. “He knew ‘I’ve been here before,’ he let him take him down, let him gas himself out; stayed in his guard and started to get back into his groove; that’s just a veteran move.

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“Don’t get me wrong: Sodiq fought a very good fight; I thought his game plan was very good, the techniques he was using were very good. He looked good in that fight and I don’t think he lost any stock in that fight; it was a good performance.

“I’ve been lucky to get to see that before I fought him, and hopefully I can learn from Sodiq’s mistakes, and I can go out there, put on a solid performance,” added Murphy. “I feel like I’m technically better than Sodiq Yusuff in the striking department, but let’s see what happens though.”

Lerone Murphy of England punches Josh Culibao of Australia in their featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night at The O2 Arena on July 22, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Lerone Murphy of England punches Josh Culibao of Australia in their featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night at The O2 Arena on July 22, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

That last piece is the bit that actually makes it feel like Murphy could very well be on the cusp of having the breakout he’s long sought.

While he’s unquestionably confident in his skills, pleased with the training he’s put in ahead of this fight and throughout his career, there is a maturity and understanding about how all the pieces have fit together thus far that put him on good footing and have him potentially primed for success.

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Where others see a fighter that is unbeaten through six UFC starts and still without a defeat after 14 career appearances, Murphy sees himself as someone still figuring it all out, still young in his career, but eager to take that next step and test whether the belief he has in himself and his abilities are merited, acutely aware that things may not go his way.

“I was talking to my friend about this the other day: the possibilities are night and day; I can’t even get my head around it,” he began, smiling. “I go out there and I (knock out) Barboza, I’m the new talking point, everything is good, I’m paid; my life is crazy.

Lerone Murphy of England poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC 286 event at The O2 Arena on March 18, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)
Lerone Murphy of England poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC 286 event at The O2 Arena on March 18, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)

“Or, it can go the other way, because that’s a possibility, and that’s what makes it exciting, that’s what makes it fun.”

And for Murphy, he’s just ready to roll the dice and see how things shake out.

“I’m fully focused on the fight, the job at hand — which is a difficult task — but I’m ready for it; I’m ready for that challenge.

“This is the right time for that challenge. I’ve had six fights in the UFC, still undefeated, so let’s roll the dice. Let’s take some bigger risks. I’m ready for it, man. I’m looking forward to it.”

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UFC Fight Night: Barboza vs Murphy took place live from UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada on May 18, 2024. See the final Prelim and Main Card Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!