When we last left our heroes...There's a line from the maligned film Alien 3 that I always liked, despite not enjoying the film much but not hating it either (to be fair, it grapples with themes beyond its abilities, which deserves some credit) that goes; "you've been in my life so long, I can't remember anything else." Ripley's comment is directed at the xenomorph. To me, Renan is the xenomorph to Cruz' Ripley.
I'm sure that analogy makes zero sense upon reflection, but like Ripley, the fans can't remember a time when BW wasn't dominated by Barao. He is the division's true champion. You can't begrudge Cruz for his injuries. But you can embrace Barao for carrying the division on his back.
While Cruz continues to battle injury against every sneeze, cough, and skid knee, Renan continues to battle every contender. While we wait for what should be a very interesting fight between the actual champions of the division, it seems as if Renan will be the one doing the dirty work in the meantime.
Fresh off a very impressive victory against a fighter who will likely contend again in the near future in Michael McDonald, Barao will compete against the hard-nosed veteran Eddie Wineland.
Wineland has led an interesting career. He entered the WEC as a Chris Lytle type; the kind of fighter who never becomes a champion, but who will always have a place in the elite organizations because ultimately he's just too damn good at fighting. He's fresh off twin wins, both over more than formidable opposition; one over Brad Pickett, the other over Scott Jorgensen.
What both men can do: Wineland is very much like Lytle, but only in the abstract sense. Where Lytle liked to wing, and loop his strikes, Wineland throws incredibly crisp strikes in tight. While he likes to go to the right hand-left hook combo step out, step back in for a right hand-left hook a little too often, it's more than enough for most fighters. In fact, these combinations were enough to put Pickett down...which despite happening with regularity lately still only happens against the elite.
Barao, meanwhile, can do it all. His boxing is crisp, as he's more than capable of sticking to a jab while firing a rangy, hard right hand from a distance. In addition, he has brutal leg kicks, and is more than willing to mix up his strikes with a dose of spin.
He's also a genius on the ground. Unlike normal grappling geniuses in MMA, however, Barao doesn't just know how the mechanics work...he knows how to apply those mechanics. A lot of guys know how to sink in a rear naked choke. But not many fighters know how to find that RNC in a transition haystack. One of the cleanest RNC transitions you'll ever see was contained in Barao's fight with Brad Pickett.
Needless to say, nobody's expecting Wineland to win.
What both men can't do: Barao is to Brazilian fighters what Blade is to vampires; all of their strengths, none of their weaknesses. Except just like Blade isn't immune to struggling with Dracula, Reapers, and Deacon Frost, Barao will probably get touched here and there.
It's weird writing a portion explaining Barao's flaws because he doesn't have any obvious ones, but I would say that if there's anything subtle that could play a role, it's Barao's tendency to lean in, sometimes with his head tucked down, with his jab.
He did this a lot against Jorgensen, which allowed him to get tagged with right hands every now and then. While he's cleaned up his boxing since then, it's possible he could fall back into this rhythm with Wineland's crisp movement.
Regardless, the real problem here is that Wineland is still a gatekeeper, and Barao is a certified champ. Make no mistake...if Pickett could find the mark, Barao will be headhunting all night. I see Barao closing the distance with kicks, and right hands, all of which will be exacerbated by Wineland's tendency to bleed and lose steam as the fight wears on.
X-Factor: Eddie Wineland would have to be an extra in a Shane Black movie to have a chance. In other words, he'd have to be this character from the Last Boy Scout to have a chance.
Prediction: Renan Barao by RNC, round 3.