This Saturday night (Feb. 1, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bantamweight champion Renan Barao will face off against Urijah Faber in the pay-per-view (PPV) main event of UFC 169 from Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
The highly-anticipated mixed martial arts (MMA) bout is a rematch of their UFC 149 tilt, where Barao first obtained the interim bantamweight gold by outpointing Faber via unanimous decision. Since then, both fighters have seen incredible surges in momentum, making their second fight much more high profile than the first.
Barao was last seen destroying noted power striker Eddie Wineland in the co-main event of UFC 165. The remarkable ease with which he dispatches elite opponents is truly a sight to behold. He brings an alarming 32-fight unbeaten streak into UFC 169, and there's arguably not a fighter who can top his hot streak.
However, former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) featherweight champion Faber is one of the very few who can come even close to matching Barao's recent track record.
Since his loss at UFC 149, "The California Kid" has racked up four consecutive victories over top competition, including three finishes. His last fight was a convincing submission victory over touted bantamweight prospect Michael McDonald. The win capped off an undefeated 4-0 year for Faber, who looks absolutely re-invented thanks to new Team Alpha Male head coach, Duane "Bang" Ludwig.
But, "The California Kid" has always been unstoppable in non-title fights. With five consecutive losses when the belt is on the line, this rematch presents a pivotal sink-or-swim moment for the popular Faber.
Barao may just be the toughest challenge in all of MMA, so Faber has his hands full in his latest attempt to get off the championship snide. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Barao vs. Faber:
Record: 31-1 (1) overall, 6-0 UFC
Key Wins: Urijah Faber (UFC 149), Michael McDonald (UFC on FUEL TV 7), Eddie Wineland (UFC 165), Brad Pickett (UFC 138)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Barao has a nearly unmatchable striking game thanks to his time-spent training at Brazil's vaunted Nova Uniao gym. He broke one of Faber's ribs with a well-timed knee at UFC 149, causing the pace of the bout to slow down considerably.
While that helped him pick up the decision win in that fight, it's apparent that Faber has since become a new breed of fighter. "The California Kid" has repeatedly focused on making the second match a dogfight and not allowing Barao to turn this into a slow-paced kickboxing match.
For that reason, Barao needs to show up ready to put forth a huge volume of strikes while countering any takedown attempts that might come his way. Faber is always in prime shape for his bouts, and this one will be no different. Barao should look to pepper Faber's lead leg with a heavy torrent of powerful leg kicks to wear down his power.
Faber showed he can be susceptible to leg kicks against Aldo, and Barao is a very similar fighter. His varied striking is good enough to keep Faber at range, and his power is some of the best in the sport. If Barao can find his striking rhythm early, it could be a long night for Faber. He most likely won't be knocked out, but that won't matter much if he is sent plummeting to his sixth straight title defeat.
If and when "The California Kid" looks to switch levels for a takedown, Barao can be confident in his excellent takedown defense. He's defended 95 percent of his UFC opponents' attempts. Even if he does get slammed to the mat, his top-shelf Brazilian jiu-jitsu pedigree should keep him out of too much trouble.
With one win over Faber under his belt, Barao has the advantage at UFC 169. He just has to be ready to survive an onslaught.
Record: 30-6 overall, 6-2 UFC
Key Wins: Dominick Cruz (WEC 26), Michael McDonald (UFC on FOX 9), Jens Pulver (WEC 34, WEC 38), Bibiano Fernandes (KOTC: All Stars), Eddie Wineland (UFC 128)
Key Losses: Renan Barao (UFC 149), Jose Aldo (WEC 48), Dominick Cruz (UFC 132), Mike Brown (WEC 36, WEC 41)
Keys to Victory: At 34 years old, Faber arguably looked the best he ever has in 2013. A big part of that was probably due to the sting he felt from his prior loss to Barao. Now, he's finally inched his way back up to title contention and has a golden opportunity in Newark.
He'll meet up with a man who has just as much momentum as he does, if not more. Faber needs to make this fight play out according to his gameplan the second time around. His striking has rapidly improved under Coach Ludwig, so he needs to keep a high volume of power punches in Barao's face.
If he can, he might be able to disrupt the baron's flow and make this fight ugly.
Faber's base skill set has always been wrestling and he'll probably look to implement that at some point during this fight. He'll have his work cut out for him when he does. Barao's ability to stay upright is rivaled by few in MMA, but Faber's not a man who quits easily.
Even if he does score a takedown, Faber has to be very careful on the ground. He's never been submitted, but the possibility will always be there when you're dealing with a high-level Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt like Barao. On the other hand, Faber is tied with UFC legend Royce Gracie for most submissions in WEC/UFC history with 11. You can bet he'll be looking to become the sole owner of that record if the opportunity presents itself.
The window for that will be excruciatingly small, however, so Faber may have to focus on winning a decision here. To do so, he needs to maintain an advantage in the striking department. While that's far from an easy task, it's become clear that this isn't the same Faber we saw lose at UFC 149.
He has to prove that in what may be the biggest fight of his illustrious career.
Bottom Line from New Jersey: The bottom line for this crucial title bout is that's a make-or-break opportunity for Faber. He's been dominant as of late and there's not much argument that he deserves another title shot. But, in losing five straight bouts with gold on the line, it'll be extremely hard for him to get another one should he taste defeat once again.
Time may be running short for "The California Kid," making this bout the most crucial one he's ever stepped into.
Despite Faber's past bouts against Aldo and Cruz, Barao is at his absolute peak and may be his toughest opponent. Even if the Brazilian does lose to Faber in Newark, he'll most likely get an immediate rematch against Faber. That takes an indefinable amount of pressure off the Brazilian's shoulders, something that a 32-fight unbeaten streak tends to do.
Barao is possibly primed to become the world's top-ranked pound-for-pound fighter if he can get past Faber in convincing fashion. It's a sentiment echoed by Dana White, and there's not much else he can do to sway the polls in his favor.
Faber can prove he's the best bantamweight in the world on Saturday night, so there's never been a time when his mental focus and positive attitude will benefit him more. Even though he continuously exudes a high level of self-confidence and belief, the pressure of losing your last five title bouts simply has to allow some doubt to creep in.
Faber has to put that doubt to rest and throw caution to the wind. It won't guarantee success, but it's time to prove he can rise on the grandest stage.
If not, we could see Barao become the most dominant force in all of MMA. That should make this bout being a rousing war, so enjoy the fight.
It's do-or-die time for Urijah Faber at UFC 169. Can he put an end to Renan Barao's insane winning streak?