Lucas ‘Hulk’ Barbosa took his first MMA fight in over a decade at the recent edition of PFL Challenger Series on January 27th, 2023 and he lost a unanimous decision in his return. It’s been quite a long time coming, as Barbosa originally announced his intention to make a return to MMA in 2021. Things don’t always go to plan of course, and any number of things can slow down a fighter’s career, but Barbosa eventually managed to get a fight booked at PFL 7 in 2022. That fight fell apart though, and delayed his return even further.
He was given another chance to compete in the PFL cage, but this time Barbosa would be competing for a PFL contract on the welterweight edition of their Challenger Series. Barbosa was coming up against a relatively new professional MMA fighter in Itso Babulaidze, as he had only been competing for less than a year. Babulaidze had won both of his first MMA fights leading up to this and had even taken a few grappling matches in that time as well, putting in strong performances at events like Fury Pro Grappling 2.
Barbosa is an multiple-time ADCC veteran and a four-time IBJJF no gi world champion, making him undoubtedly one of the best grapplers on the planet. Regardless, there was always going to be some questions around how well he was going to do when transitioning to MMA. When it came time to step into the cage, Barbosa started off very well and looked as though he might be able to find the finish or even run away with the fight as the rounds wear on. That didn’t last for very long though, as he started to fade pretty quickly and Babulaidze managed to take advantage of his opponent’s weakness to take control of the fight.
In the end, Babulaidze won on the judge’s scorecards against Lucas ‘Hulk’ Barbosa at PFL Challenger Series 2023 and he put a huge dent in his plans to return to MMA. Only one of the four winners on the night could end up with a PFL contract though and unfortunately for him, that wasn’t Babulaidze. Instead, Thad Jean was awarded the contract to compete in this year’s welterweight PFL season. Regardless the future looks very bright for Babulaidze, and pretty unclear for Lucas ‘Hulk’ Barbosa as fans wait to see if he’s going to continue his professional MMA career.