Interim Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bantamweight champion Renan Barao kept his stranglehold on the 135-pound division in Dominick Cruz's absence with a fourth-round submission of Michael McDonald in the main event of UFC on FUEL TV 7: "Barao vs. McDonald" last night (Feb. 16, 2013) in London, England.
Entering his first interim title defense on the heels of a unanimous decision win over former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) champion Urijah Faber, Barao carried a tremendous amount of momentum into the event, and as seen in his win over McDonald, the 25-year-old has only improved since his last bout in July 2012.
McDonald had no answer for the well-rounded effort brought forth by Barao and that's ultimately why he resulted on the wrong end of an arm-triangle choke.
The win at Wembley Arena pushed Barao's astronomical undefeated streak to 31-straight fights, a run so impressive it's almost hard to fathom, and only raises the question: who can beat the Brazilian?
At this point, after his submission of "Mayday," it's hard to look at the 135-pound weight class and pick out an opponent who would be favored over Barao.
The next fight really depends on two major factors. One, when will bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz be ready to return to the Octagon? And two, how long does Barao want to wait to fight again?
The answer to question one is very much up in the air as the neither UFC nor Cruz has released an update on an exact return date for "The Dominator." If he is ready to go by summertime, it's possible the UFC waits to put together a unification bout. From Cruz's standpoint, it's a lot to ask him to come back after what would be roughly two years away from the sport and fight Barao immediately. A warm-up fight would be ideal, but that's simply not how the UFC operates and Cruz will immediately be thrown into the fire whenever he is finally healthy.
Barao made it public after winning the interim belt last year that he wanted to wait to fight Cruz; however, when the 27-year-old went under the knife for a second knee surgery, Barao had no choice but to take the bout with McDonald. If he wanted to wait around in the past, it's all but guaranteed he will want to wait for Cruz again, and whether or not that happens is dependent on the champ's recover time.
Should Cruz's recovery go through another hiccup and Barao is required to fight, there is really only one logical opponent out there for him at this time.
If you go by the official UFC rankings, Barao has already wiped the floor with four of the top five ranked fighters in the bantamweight division, with the exception of Wineland.
Wineland is on a nice two-fight win-streak that includes a knockout of Scott Jorgensen and a decision over fan favorite Brad Pickett, and he could easily be groomed as the next title challenger at 135-pounds.
Barao would certainly have an advantage on the ground, but Wineland's defensive wrestling, boxing and knockout power would certainly give him a chance of being the one to stop Barao's ridiculous win-streak.
Outside of Wineland, the options for title challengers in the division are thin. Had Barao lost to McDonald, the UFC could easily groom Urijah Faber as the No. 1 contender if he defeats Ivan Menjivar at UFC 157 next week, but with Barao just one fight removed from a win over Faber, setting up that rematch would not be appealing to many fans.
The most likely option for Barao is that he will try to sit and wait for Cruz to return from injury, which is probably the smart move if the fight can happen in the next six to eight months. Unfortunately for Barao, he lives in a world where him employers are putting on upwards of 30 fight cards a year and the organization needs championship fights as often as possible.
This entire situation is dependent on Cruz, so hopefully more answers regarding his health will be revealed in the coming weeks.
Who would you like to see Barao face next? Let us know in the comments section below.