After losing his professional debut, UFC Bantamweight Champion Renan Barao has won his last 33 contests (Photo by Dave Mandel, Sherdog.com).
Written by Chris Cox, MMA Contributor
This past Wednesday night, we wrapped up an exciting night of fights, and another UFC Fight Night went into the books. The latest installment of the series was capped off with a stunning TKO of Costas Philippou by Luke Rockhold. If you did not watch the fight, then you missed one of the purest one round displays of kickboxing I have ever seen. Then again, you would expect nothing less of a man who comes out of the American Kickboxing Academy.
The technical display by Rockhold was on a card filled with people whose names are not as large as they should be, and it had some fighters who are not very well known at all. Rockhold is a staple to some hardcore MMA fans who were following Strikeforce before the UFC merger, but highlights of him being knocked out by Vitor Belfort are unfortunately what most fans know best.
After watching the dominant win by Rockhold on Wednesday night, his small notoriety got me thinking about an upcoming fight in which the champion really does not get the respect and attention that he deserves: Renan Barao.
Since July of 2012, Barao has been forced to sit with an “Interim” next his name as UFC Bantamweight Champion. He has defended his title twice, both times in stunning fashion. The fact that he had to wait for three different injuries to former titleholder Dominick Cruz to officially become the “undisputed” champion was absolutely ridiculous. This man has a 33-1 record. He has not lost since 2005, which was his first professional match! Meanwhile, Cruz last fought in October of 2011. At least when Georges St-Pierre stepped away, he had the courtesy to leave his belt behind. If you are not going to fight, you cannot be a champion. Barao is here to fight, and he is the champion. But sadly, he is a “ghost” to the common fan. Not enough people have paid attention to him because he has not been the headline of a PPV. On Febuary 1st, he gets just that when he faces the man who he defeated to earn the UFC Bantamweight Title, Urijah Faber.
Faber is easily the best other guy in this division. He has literally walked through anyone who has been put in front of him since that Barao fight. Highlight reel submissions, one after another. But this is the big stage. Faber has been known to shrink a bit under the pressure of when the gold is on the line, and the guy who he is stepping up against will be no easy task.
I strongly encourage everyone who has not done so to go and watch the fights of Barao. He has a very technical ground game and will cancel out anything Faber would hope to get in terms of submissions. I am a big Faber fan, and there is a side of me that would love for him to get the gold back around his waist with all he has done for the sport, and what he continues to do for the sport. Then I really look at the paper, and I compare the notes and videos of Barao, who is a force to be reckoned with. Yes, it is a bit early, but I am going to go ahead and make my prediction for this fight. Barao will take it in five rounds. I see them striking it out, attempting to counter each other. Barao only has about a one inch reach advantage, so I could see him do a lot of circling out. Also, takedowns and submissions are not going to be easy with these two because of how highly skilled each of them are in that category.
Both of these guys have a lot of respect for one another and know what they collectively bring to the table. However, I still see it coming down to the judges. As for the co-main event with Jose Aldo and Ricardo Lamas? Well, Aldo has a knack for making wrestlers pay, and I look to see him keep that streak alive to successfully defend his featherweight title. After that fight, I am holding out hope to see a superfight between him and UFC Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis.
MMA is officially in full swing for 2014, folks. There is a stacked card coming up on FOX next week before this PPV, and I am counting down the days for March when Bellator MMA gets up and going again as well.