While the Wembley Arena in the United Kingdom may not be rewarded with high octane preliminary fights, the main event promises the best kind of action this sport is capable of promising. It's what makes breaking this fight down so enjoyable, yet complicated, and frustrating all at once.
The real narrative going into this fight has been to what extent Nova Uniao can conquer the world. How much longer until everyone under 155 pounds will forcibly speak Portuguese, walk out to Sandstorm, and blame their losses on dengue fever? Kidding aside, Renan Barao seems poised to be yet another Nova Uniao product beyond his contemporaries. But Michael McDonald should not be overlooked. He's the most dangerous underdog there is: an underdog with a supernatural ability to break your face.
Barao's career didn't really take off until the Brad Pickett fight. He showed promise in the WEC, but his opponents didn't offer him the challenge that Pickett did. I honestly don't remember who I picked for that fight, but I remember thinking Pickett was the favorite. Much to my delight, it turned out to be a fantastic scrap, which you can watch below (it doesn't last long)
One of the things that shocked me, and many others was Barao's willingness to "just scrap". Like the hockey fights last night in Vancouver that saw my Dallas Stars team's entire fourth line get into it within three seconds of each other, there wasn't room for much defense. Both guys fought the old fashioned way: ball up a fist, and throw.
Of course, such a description does a disservice to Renan's brilliant rear naked choke finish. But it illustrates a point nonetheless that if Barao wants to discard what he doesn't need and just have a punch in the face contest, he's more than capable.
Is it the smart decision?
What both men can do: With McDonald, it's no secret. His right hand could stop a small asteroid from entering the earth's atmosphere. While McDonald is certainly multi-dimensional, he's gonna fight in the one dimension he's best at. I picked Miguel Torres to win when they fought, which probably tells you all you need to know about my predictions, but I felt like Torres might use his reach (which he did to lackluster effect against Banuelos and Pace), and if he got it to the ground, he'd submit him. I was shocked when McDonald put him in a surprise van of pain with some brilliant uppercuts.
It was a brutal knockout, complete with Torres' rapture-witnessing-face and all. But what bodes well for McDonald in this fight, however, is his technical acumen. Yes, he's a one trick pony, but he tricks opponents into falling for that pony everytime. The thing about McDonald is that he's figured out a solution to getting away with not setting up his power right, which is to just keep throwing it.
In Jack Slack's breakdown, he correctly points out one of the things McDonald does well when the jab gets to him, which is to simply duck and counter. Of course, an uppercut countering the jab worked against Torres because Miguel's head was basically buried in McDonald's chest, and Miguel isn't an effective jabber to begin with; Pace and Banuelos were presented with opportunities they simply failed to take. Like Tim Sylvia's plodding jab, it was only a matter of time until the ghost was given up.
Which brings us to Barao. His jab is clean, crisp, and exactly what you'd expect from someone whose dad was a boxer. More than that, he's incorporated, as Nick Diaz would so eloquently claim, "that spinning shit", seamlessly into his arsenal. His spinning back kick, which he makes look easy, is what kept Scott Jorgenson at bay for three rounds. It's a technique McDonald will be prepared for, but not one he's been prepared for in practice; as in, no one he trains with can throw or time those kicks the way Barao does, so it'll be interesting to see how the fight plays out on the feet.
On the ground, McDonald is capable, but he won't take the fight to the ground. Barao is simply better, especially in the transitions. McDonald also has sturdy takedown defense.
What both men can't do: What's amusing about this fight is that both men accentuate their flaws through their strengths. McDonald is always looking to land his right hand, so he'll eat some kicks, and a few jabs to do so. He's comfortable with his power, so he knows he can get away with it. It's my biggest gripe against McDonald in fact: punching power always looks good against average fighters. The fact that he's comfortable with relying on his right hand is what I consider a 'bad sign'. His left hook isn't bad, but his bread is buttered by that right knuckle meat soother of his.
However, while I think Barao is the future, this is probably his worst matchup. Not because McDonald is more talented, or even the better boxer, but because Barao's jab is so good, he can get lazy with it. There were moments in the Jorgensen fight where he'd paw with it. A powerful straight right is a nice answer to a lazy jab.
Having said all that, Barao hasn't been knocked out, and that comes from his ability to control distance with kicks, jabs, spinning back kicks, and a straight of his own that McDonald himself would be wise to respect. In fact, Barao's straight right is the reason I'm picking him. It's much cleaner, whereas McDonald traditionally loops his punches. I don't think it'll get around Barao's defenses.
McDonald, with his lack of sturdy competition, and time off will be the one to blink first, and Barao will catch him with a submission during the scramble.
Prediction: Renan Barao by submission, round 2.