On February 1, 2014 Renan Barao will get the chance to remove the interim tag from his UFC bantamweight title belt when he faces (non-interim) UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz in a title unification bout.
Cruz has not fought since he successfully defended his title against Demetrious Johnson on October 1, 2011. Two knee surgeries have kept Cruz (19-1) on the shelf since that victory.
While Cruz has been healing up, Barao (31-1-1) has been fighting, and winning. Barao captured the interim title by defeating Urijah Faber in July 2012. Since then, he has defended the title twice, defeating Michael McDonald and Eddie Wineland.
In both of those title defenses, Barao earned some extra cash. Barao pocketed Submission of the Night with his fourth round stoppage of McDonald, and earned Knockout of the Night for his second round TKO of Wineland.
In the past Barao has made it clear that his ultimate desire is to shake the interim tag from his title. When Barao received the news that he would get the chance to do just that, the 26-year-old Brazilian was a happy man, telling MMAFighting.com:
We're finally getting in there to do the fight that everybody wants to see and find out who's the real champion. I always wanted it and rooted for his (Cruz's) recovery. I feel I'm the champion. Being in there and doing my work, I'm a champion already. He's also the champion, but I am too. Let's see who leaves the Octagon as the champion.
Everyone knows that Cruz has been out of action for more than two years, but that layoff is not something Barao feels will give him an edge over Cruz heading into UFC 169's co-main event:
I don't believe that gives me an advantage. What gives me an advantage is my training. I will work hard to get there at my best. I'm not counting him out because of the injuries.
Both fighters carry lengthy winning streaks into the fight. Cruz sole loss came in his WEC debut, where he lost via first round submission to Urijah Faber in a featherweight title fight. That defeat came in March 2007. Barao has not lost since his professional MMA debut in 2005 ended in a unanimous decision defeat to João Paulo Rodrigues de Souza.
UFC 169 will be headlined by Barao's Nova Uniao teammate, UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo defending his title against No. 2 ranked contender Ricardo Lamas. The card is scheduled for the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
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