Renan Barao (31-1-1 NC) vs. Urijah Faber (31-6) Bantamweight
When we last left our heroes...I can't help but feel like this bout is a lost opportunity to promote something truly special. I realize the UFC has to run their business. Were I lucky enough to be in their position, I'd be doing the exact same thing; expanding the roster, putting up more cards to increase the sport's presence, breaking into new markets, and crushing my enemies and seeing them driven before me.
But just like the body favors homeostasis, efficiency favors moderation. Having special athletes means giving your audience time to breathe in the quality; getting a sustained look at what the world's best mixed martial artists have to offer.
It's hard for a general audience to say much about this bout when two other title fights were on the line just a month ago, and two consecutive cards before 169 dominated the media sphere.
All the stuff Dana was gushing about in response to Faber's commitment to taking this fight, despite it being on short notice, and how he could have been a mega star if only people knew...Dana doesn't seem to realize that fans are able to get the message without you spelling it out for them. You just need to let them experience the anticipation. Then these stories grow organically, and the audience's interest becomes fueled by imaginations, and expectations.
I don't know what the solution is. But the first step would be avoiding burying two title fights involving the sport's top athletes on Superbowl weekend. Or maybe shifting big bouts onto PPV's that normally headline Fuel Cards and Fight Nights so that smaller cards can exist for what they are: cards that can exist not as moneymakers, but as minor events that are useful in documenting undercard activity.
But alas, what the hell do I know about running a promotion?
What I do know is that this bout deserves that special kind of anticipation. Faber has done everything that could be asked of him, beating, and dominating everyone who isn't wearing gold. He's on a four fight winning streak right now, and 6-2 in the UFC overall.
His last win over Michael McDonald was special in that you had a bright young prospect who already had an excellent showing against Barao, the champ, continuing to improve, yet got obliterated by Faber at UFC on FOX:Johnson vs. Benavidez.
As for Barao, he remains undefeated since losing his MMA debut in 2005. He's won his last two bouts by finishes; a spinning back kick that set up the victory against Eddie Wineland at UFC 165, and an arm-triangle choke against Michael McDonald in February last year.
Bloody Elbow's own Kid Nate, Dallas Winston and Connor Ruebusch broke down this bout and the main event in the MMA Vivisection for UFC 169:
What both men can do: What makes Barao unique is his patience. He's a gifted striker who generally waits for his opponent to initiate. The sequence in the 2nd round of his bout with Wineland is a perfect example. After quickly landing a punch he instantly recognizes that Wineland is backing up, and not moving forward as much which sets up the spinning back kick.
In the meantime he likes to chop away at the leg with a swift inside kick from his orthodox stance. Of course, on the ground you're not gonna find a better sequence for how "MMA grappling" works than at UFC 138 when Barao rocked Brad Pickett, and swiftly locked in the RNC.
Right in the same universe is Faber, who in another world is a UFC champion, but still not the star Dana claims he could be because he's never promoted like a mega star. Anyway...
One of the things Faber continues to do is improve, which is amazing in and of itself given his age (34). He's still the same lights out grappler he's been for what is closing in on a full decade. I'm tracing this claim all the way back to his loss to Tyson Griffin, where he engaged in a brilliant grapplefest that saw him lose when he threw an awful, ill-timed superman punch.
What both men can't do: When you watch their first bout, one of the things that stands out is Barao's inability to get punished when he throws his jab. He ducks while he throws a lot of times, which is begging to be punished with an uppercut; a punch Faber has in his arsenal. Of course, Barao's movement makes this difficult.
But Barao does have a tendency to wing, and loop his punches. Even though he lost (though it was incredibly close) to Dominick Cruz, Faber would be wise to use that bout as a blueprint. Urijah would sometimes do this little 'stutter step' to feint movement, then feint the punch, and then scramble in for the takedown. This is the kind of stuff Faber has to do to win: pull out every ace in his sleeve and beyond.
Faber is still a guy who makes odd choices in the cage, but he's cut down on his lunging back elbows over the years, which is why these guys don't have any real discernible flaws.
There's no obvious key to victory. This bout is all about two things: attrition, and anticipation.
X-Factor: I'm confident in saying that this will be the most controversial decision of the year. I feel Barao's patience, and timing will conflict with Faber's movement and pressure. It has all the makings of Thomson vs. Henderson all over again.
In-Fight Soundtrack: How many more times...
Prediction: Urijah Faber by Decision.