Dominick Cruz looms atop the Bantamweight division. He holds an impressive record of 18-1, is undefeated at his current weight class, on a 9 fight win streak, and recently avenged the only loss on his record. Cruz, rightfully at the Bantamweight Champion, is getting all kinds of praise(or hate) from fans due to his crazy weird(or as I would call, insanely awesome) fighting style and his physical tools that make him seemingly 'unbeatable'.
But there is another Bantamweight, much moreso a prospect then contender at this point, that is poised to have a big coming out party.
The UFC bills him as Renan Barao, "Barao" meaning 'Baron'. His full name is Renan do Nascimento Mota Pegado, but for the purposes of this piece, we'll stick with Renan Barao.
The Baron is only 24 years old and holds a professional record of 26-1 according to Sherdog, but the UFC bolsters that to 28-1 on their website. His lone loss occurred in his professional debut in April of 2005, where he lost a decision. Since then, he has won 26 straight fights, which happens to be the longest winning streak of any active MMA fighter and the 5th longest of all time, according to Fight Matrix. Renan is 3-0 under the Zuffa banner, with 2 wins in the WEC and 1 in the UFC.
Just a quick glance at the distribution of his method of victory would imply a fairly well rounded game. 8 wins by decision, 12 by submission, and 6 by knockout.
At UFC 130, many seemed to make a big deal out of the victories scored by Michael McDonald and Demetrious Johnson, while Barao seemed to go uncelebrated. McDonald particularly is a prospect many are high on, and rightly so, but he has two opponents in common with The Baron and quite frankly, Renan's performances were better. McDonald is 1-1 with Cole Escovedo, getting TKO'd in their first match, and was taken to a split decision by Chris Cariaso who took the fight with McDonald on short notice. Barao on the other hand, submitted Cariaso in the first round at WEC 53 and scored a clear cut unanimous decision victory over Escovedo at UFC 130(I was lucky enough to see that fight on Facebook)
Renan Barao will hopefully finally be recognized by a larger audiance at UFC 138, where he will take on Brad Pickett in the co-main event of the evening. Pickett has been out with an injury since December of 2010, which may give The Baron an extra advantage come fight night. The victory will likely put Barao within 2 fights of getting a title shot.
I am not saying Barao will be the next champion, or that he would even be a surefire challenge to a fighter like Cruz. If I were to put money down, I would pick Cruz to beat any 135-er on the planet. But I feel that Renan Barao is is a rather under-appreciated and under-mentioned up and comer in the Bantamweight division, and hopefully he starts to get some of the attention that I believe he deserves.