Renan Barao gets his UFC interim 135-pound title. - Anne-Marie Sorvin-US PRESSWIRE
A UFC interim champion being forced to defend his title? About time, says Bloody Elbow's Josh Nason.
When Carlos Condit walked into the Octagon Saturday night, it was his first fight in nine months. It was almost enough to make you forget he was riding a five-fight win streak and fresh off a victory over Nick Diaz in one of the year's most discussed fights.
At the time, I thought Condit shouldn't wait to fight Georges St. Pierre and should have kept going. While the UFC 154 main event was a hell of a lot of fun and almost ended with that big head kick in the third round, I still stand by my statement. Condit should have defended his title once before fighting GSP.
Somewhere in Brazil, the lone remaining UFC interim champion sits waiting for another "real" champion to recover from a torn up knee. We're still waiting for an official return date for Dominick Cruz which leaves Barao on the sidelines as he wants to wait for Cruz to return.
UFC president Dana White put the kibosh on that following UFC 154, saying they will push for Barao to not wait that long and defend his title against another top challenger instead, likely to be 21-year-old phenom Michael McDonald.
On this Thanksgiving week, that is one of the things I'm giving thanks for at my MMA dinner table.
Despite the 30-fight unbeaten streak and despite beating fan favorite Urijah Faber to claim the interim gold, Barao is still an afterthought among casual fans. The 25-year-old doesn't have the UFC resume of highlight reel finishes and moments that instantly elicit the "I gotta see that guy" reaction. The hardcores get what a talent Barao is, but that's not who the UFC is selling to.
By putting together a Barao/McDonald title fight, the UFC gets to expose two of its young talents in a big fight atmosphere. While likely not a pay-per-view headliner, a co-main slot under Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen on April 27 or a main event slot on the April 20th Fox show would be perfect.
You also allow Cruz to take the proper amount of rehab time off that he needs, which then allows more time for either the Barao or MacDonald train to get momentum toward a late-summer unification bout. It's a win-win scenario for a division that still needs more street cred among those who matter to the big brass.
It's not productive to have a champion still not in the prime of his career sit out a year-plus waiting for a title vs. title fight when there are other challengers waiting in the wings. Forcing Barao's hand now is the right thing to do and I'm ecstatic the UFC is actually doing it.