Two of the most elite bantamweights in the wold will vie for the UFC interim title tomorrow night (July 21, 2012) as former WEC featherweight champion Urijah Faber takes on elite Brazilian prospect Renan Barao in the main event of UFC 149 in Calgary, Alberta Canada.
Urijah Faber has long been considered one of the faces of the lower weight classes. He carried the WEC promotion before the merger and after coaching an entire season of The Ultimate Fighter, this could be his last chance to become a champion again. He does not want to let this opportunity slip.
Renan Barao is on a ridiculous 29 fight unbeaten streak. The extremely talented Brazilian out of the renowned Nova Uniao fight team has stepped up his competition lately, knocking off both Brad Pickett and Scott Jorgensen to earn a crack at the interim belt. It will be interesting to see how he adapts to his first main event and five round fight.
Will Faber make the most of perhaps his last opportunity to be king? Can Barao's youthful exuberance make up for his lack of experience in high profile fights? What's the key to victory for both men?
Let's find out:Urijah Faber
Record: 26-5 overall, 2-1 in the UFC
How he got here: After cutting his teeth in the Gladiator Challenge and King of the Cage promotions on the local California circuit, Urijah Faber had compiled an 11-1 record and was given a title shot in his WEC debut against champion Cole Escovedo, which he won after a second round corner stoppage.
Faber would defend his title five times over the next two years, becoming the face of the organization in the process during a 12 fight winning streak. At WEC 36, he would lose his title to Mike Brown after a spinning back elbow attack backfired and he was knocked out in the first round. Faber would earn another shot at Brown and in one of 2009's best fights, he'd continue battling despite breaking both hands early in the match, choosing instead to lunge forward with elbow strikes although he would lose a decision.
After Brown lost his title to Jose Aldo, all eyes were on Faber to take on the young Brazilian at the first ever WEC pay-per-view. "The California Kid" would fall short to Aldo in a gritty performance, absorbing some awful leg kicks for five straight rounds. Faber made the decision to drop to bantamweight afterwards.
At 135 pounds, Faber has gone 2-1 including a unanimous decision victory over former bantamweight champ Eddie Wineland at UFC 128 in his debut with the promotion. He gave champion Dominick Cruz the toughest fight of his bantamweight career at UFC 132, but came up short in the decision. H
He earned another shot at "The Dominator" with a devastating victory over former champion Brian Bowles, and after a season of hype on The Ultimate Fighter, Cruz went down with an injury. Now, Faber will battle Renan Barao for the interim belt.
How he gets it done: Faber needs to push the pace. He's a cardio machine and has all the tools to really make this a rough day for Barao.
I don't expect Faber to use his wrestling much unless he's trying to put an exclamation point on rounds, so expect him to really work his footwork, speed and just incredible output to outwork Barao on the feet.
Faber was very accurate against Dominick Cruz, but he simply wasn't active enough to make up for the champion's high volume attack. This time, it's Faber who needs to set the pace by constantly pressing forwards and forcing Barao to react to him.
If he can pull it off, Barao will likely be exhausted by the championship rounds and he can completely take over.
Record: 28-1 (1 No Contest) overall, 2-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: none
How he got here: After losing the first fight of his professional career, Barao hasn't tasted defeat. While the Brazilian didn't exactly face top talent while competing in his native country, he fought often, as many as seven times per year.
After his 24th straight bout without a loss, he finally earned an invite to the WEC, where he would submit Anthony Leone via armbar in his promotional debut. Barao competed on the final WEC 53 event, also submitting Chris Cariaso with a slick transition from a Kimura to taking the American's back before choking him out.
In his UFC debut this past summer, Barao had a tough battle with former WEC champion Cole Escovedo but would eventually earn a unanimous decision victory. He followed it up by going into Brad Pickett's homeland at UFC 138 and completely and utterly crushing the Brit by knocking him down in the first round and then choking him out to instantly burst into contention.
He scored a huge follow-up victory over former title challenger Scott Jorgensen earlier this year to put him over the top for an interim title shot.
How he gets it done: In this fight, Renan Barao needs to either keep his distance, or get to the canvas. His striking has progressed very quickly and he's capable of scoring points with a vast array of kicking attacks and he can also explode forward with the occasional knee. If the bout is standing, he can't let Faber get inside as "The California Kid" has some very powerful short strikes.
Barao showcased much improved boxing in his last two fights and his overall game is rounding out nicely. If he feels he's got a speed and technique edge, he's going to keep this fight standing as long as possible, but he should constantly keep the threat of the takedown there as he's so aggressive on the canvas that he might simply be able to overwhelm Faber there.
If he can force a scramble, Barao is lightning quick with his ability to hop onto his opponent's back and once there, a fight-ending rear naked choke is almost inevitable. Look for the young Brazilian to perhaps try to reverse a takedown attempt or maybe even shoot for one of his own if Faber is on his heels in the striking.
Expect anything and everything from this young star in the making as he has grown by leaps and bounds in nearly all of his skills. I think leg kicks could be huge for him as Faber has had issues dealing with them in the past and Barao's teammate, Jose Aldo, was the main perpetrator in dishing them out.
Fight X-Factor: One of the biggest X-Factors for this fight has to be the fact that this is (I think) Faber's 15th five round fight while Barao has never competed past the third round. That extra championship round experience is HUGE for "The California Kid" here and if he can push a strong pace and at least win one of the first three rounds, there's a very good chance he'll be able to take both the 4th and 5th from Barao.
Also, Faber is used to the pressure of carrying a card as he's been the main event for years. This is all new to Barao and there's no telling how he'll react to his first main event billing in Zuffa, whether he'll fight differently.
Bottom Line: This is not going to be one of those stylistic match-ups where one guy is trying to move forward while the other is trying to score points. Both of these guys are aggressive, love to move forward and work hard to try and finish fights. I have extremely high expectations that both Faber and Barao are going to bring it here. Both men are very active on the feet and on the ground. There is serious high potential for an exciting fight and just looking at all the intangibles, I don't see how this could be boring. While an interim bantamweight title is not the most high profile main event out there, this is still going to be very entertaining.
Who will come out on top at UFC 149? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!