It's not too often that two top-ranked fighters in a division stand toe-to-toe in the pocket and slug it out, but that's exactly what happened last night (November 5, 2011) in the bantamweight showdown between Renan Barao and Brad Pickett.
The bout was dubbed the co-main event and Pickett had the support of his native countrymen throughout the exciting one-round contest, but Barao was simply too much for him.
The set-up to the conclusion of the "Fight of the Night"-winning bout was breathtaking for anyone who appreciates the full realm of mixed martial arts.
So how was Barao able to handle the veteran in what was clearly his toughest career test to date? And where do both exciting bantamweights go from here?
The tone of the fight was immediately set in the first 10 seconds as both men traded leather and neither backed down. The punching exchanges were relatively even, but Barao seemed to do a little more damage.
Another key factor was the inclusion of kicks. While Pickett held his own with his crisp boxing, he had no answer for Barao's flying knees, spinning back kicks as well as his leg and body kicks. Barao also repeatedly found a home for his lead left hook, which knocked "One Punch" back on several occasions and may have messed with his tempo.
Just as it appeared that the Brit was beginning to gain some momentum in the striking department, he got caught completely off guard.
Notice how Pickett's feet are both flat on the ground and he's simply unable to get out of the way as Barao explodes forward with a brutal lunging knee attack that cracks him on the jaw.
The 24 year old immediately pounced with a beautiful flurry of punches that dropped Pickett and after some brief ground and pound, he swiftly took Pickett's back in one fluid motion.
It appears that he did it in less than half a second in the slow motion replay, one of the best transitions of the year. He quickly latches on a rear naked choke which put a ton of pressure on Pickett's jaw and forces the tap.
For Brad Pickett, he was visibly devastated with the result and at 33 years old, he might never get an opportunity to fight for the title now. It's evident that if he wants to stand and trade with opponents, he should add some kicking attacks to his arsenal to not only become a less predictable striker but to also perhaps understand the defense of the kicks better as well.
A good potential opponent for "One Punch" would be the heavy-hitting Damacio Page, or perhaps recent main card loser Jeff Curran. Another possibility would be former WEC bantamweight champion Eddie Wineland, who's also hit a rough stretch against two of the best in the division.
For Renan Barao, this was a star-making performance. After having a tough battle in his UFC debut against Cole Escovedo, he showcased a severely improved striking game and some insane ground skills against by far the strongest opponent of his young career.
There's already talk of a potential title shot against Dominick Cruz, but that would only happen if something goes terrible wrong in the upcoming fight between Urijah Faber and Brian Bowles at UFC 139. A far more likely scenario would see Barao tested against a highly ranked bantamweight like Ivan Menjivar, Takeya Mizugaki or the winner of Miguel Torres vs. Nick Pace. In my opinion, he's one win away from a title shot.
So what did you think, Maniacs?
Were you equally impressed by Barao's performance last night? With a 28 fight unbeaten streak, does he have what it takes to become a future UFC champion?
All gifs by Zombie Prophet via IronForgesIron.com.