Renan Barao was the best Bantamweight in the world yesterday. He faced a very tough and game challenger, and adapted his strategy to win the day. Barao came into the UFC riding a win streak mostly from regional Brazilian shows and a few WEC under-cards. His first round submission of Brad Pickett really announced him as a top level fighter. He followed that with back to back cruise control wins over Scott Jorgensen and Urijah Faber. While impressive these wins were not the dramatic wins, requiring Barao to show that championship level of determination and mental toughness.
Michael McDonald, however, did not go quietly and even hurt Barao a few times. McDonald's hard straight right cross caused Barao to give up on his leg kicks. In the later rounds Barao slowed things down and really took advantage of McDonald's limited number of set ups for his attacks on the feet. Once Barao was able to predict and time McDonald on the feet the danger he posed to Barao was greatly reduced. That kind of in fight adjustment is not something easily done and shows that Barao, despite being young, is a seasoned fighter.
It was a fantastic fight between two young fighters who will almost certainly meet again down the road. Now on to the other thoughts on this card:
- Barao played the chess master in the fourth round, setting up that arm triangle perfectly. Catching the arm triangle as a fighter tries to spin out of back control is a fairly standard transition attack from the position and Barao baited McDonald beautifully into the trap.
- McDonald is a super talented kid and his skills are very sharp, but he uses so much explosive movement when grappling, both standing and on the ground. At times when Barao had him down McDonald used a good deal of muscle to escape back to his feet. While that will work once or twice, eventually it will physically drain a fighter and Barao was able to adapt.
- McDonald's corner did cause me some concern, their limited input in addition to his inability to adapt to Barao's adjusts makes me question the level of coaching McDonald is getting. Yes McDonald is young, but so is Barao and the Brazilian is training at one of the best camps in the sport. It might be that McDonald will need to switch camps at some point in his career.
- Cub Swanson's win over Dustin Poirier helped the Featherweight division immensely. It was a quality fight between two excellent fighters that helped give a weight-class some much need clarity at the top of the division. Swanson should be matched with either Ricardo Lamas or Chan Sung Jung to give the Featherweight division a contender convincing enough to stop another Ligthweight from jumping the line. Poirier should get a decent fight also to get him back into the ring of contenders also.
- The Jimi Manuwa and Cyrille Diabate fight just stunk. Not the actual fight, but the way it ended with a pretty tepid doctor's stoppage. I don't blame Diabate at all, he is pushing 40 with over twenty MMA fights, not to mention his pure striking matches, he needs to listen to his body. Hope this isn't the end for The Snake, but wouldn't blame him if he decided to call it a career.
- Gunnar Nelson showed MMA fans a little bit of everything when facing the stiffest test of his career. Jorge Santiago, while not an elite fighter, has a fairly complete skill set and challenged the young Nelson. While not overly impressive, it was a good experience for Nelson, in which he was forced to use all of his skills and exposed what he still needs to work on. After that fight it is pretty clear Nelson needs to shore up his striking. Nelson doesn't have a great deal of power and is rather hit-able. An increase in the volume of his strikes, both on the ground and standing, would be a positive. In any event Nelson still looks to be a Top 10 guy in the making.
- After this we get into the run of fights that spanned five hours and made this a tough card to watch. Ryan Jimmo almost ended the streak of decisions with a head kick, which only happened because of a good awful intervention by referee Leonn Roberts. It resulted in a round that likely should have resulted in a 10-8 for Jimmo and netted a draw at the end of the fight, but no judge saw it that way. One judge did award James Te Huna a 10-8 in the second round and was just a head scratching example of horrific judging.
- Speaking of horrific judging, how the hell did a judge decide Che Mills beat Matt Riddle? It was an inexcusable scorecard which will result in no action from Marc Ratner.
- Danny Castillo showed no fear of Paul Sass' infamous guard and triangle offense. This fight is a reminder to all grappling based fighters: a great submission attack from guard is a fantastic weapon to have both in MMA and competitive grappling, but not as a primary weapon. Submissions from guard have become increasingly rare in MMA, following the same trend that occurred in competitive grappling. Looking around at submission grappling the most dynamic guard players employ a sweep first game, using submission attacks as a secondary attack. Sass is an excellent grappler and he could still be a dynamic force in the Lightweight division but he will need to add a new wrinkle to his grappling.
- Tom Watson's win over Stanislav Nedkov was the most fun fight on the undercard, an awesome come back, but not much more meaning beyond that.