That's a damn good question ... what is next for Renan Barao?
"The Baron" is nearly invincible at the moment, fresh off a first-round stoppage over the insanely tough Urijah Faber last night (Sat., Feb. 1, 2014) at UFC 169: "Barao vs. Faber 2" in Newark, New Jersey.
Fans in the house at Prudential Center and those at home may have questioned veteran referee Herb Dean's stoppage, where Faber seemed to have covered up properly when Barao was attacking him with shots to the side of the head on the ground (watch the video highlights right here).
Barao lit him up twice, dropping him the same amount of times and relentlessly attacked Team Alpha Male's captain with no space to breathe for him to get it together. The most interesting thing about that stoppage is that it takes absolutely zilch away from Barao's performance. He hurt Faber maybe the worst we've ever seen "The California Kid," and nobody is complaining that Barao doesn't deserve it.
Besides all of that, here's a champion who has not lost since 2005, stringing together a whopping 32-fight win streak the includes nine wins under both Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) banners, stopping six of those opponents brutally.
With his training partner, UFC Featherweight champion Jose Aldo, most likely moving up to challenge Lightweight champion Anthony Pettis next because he more or less cleaned out the division, Barao is in a similar situation.
It doesn't matter who he faces, really. He's going to be heavily favored, and it would be considered a massive upset if the under dog gets the better of him. In other words, there are no favorable match ups at the moment.
Just have a look at the official UFC Rankings (even if they make you nauseous) for proof.
If the company abides by its system, Barao just finished the first, second and fourth-ranked fighters in his last three outings (Faber, Michael McDonald and Eddie Wineland, respectively).
You've got Raphael Assuncao at No. 3, but can we be reasonable to say that if a fight like that gets booked, it's more or less feeding the Brazilian to the wolves? He is on a five-fight win streak, although besides his split decision victory over T.J. Dillashaw, he's beaten Vaughan Lee, Mike Easton and Issei Tamura.
If that resume earns him a match against Barao, so be it. Although, he wins by process of elimination, and Barao would be a humungous favorite.
Speaking of Dillashaw, he's looked good, and he's definitely one of the Top Five in the division right now. He has gone 7-2 in his UFC stay, but his even record (1-1) in his last two outings simply cannot lead to a title shot.
The thought of Barao and Cruz trading fisticuffs are incredibly enticing despite not knowing if "Dominator" can ever make it back to the Octagon. It's been a terribly long, injury-riddled layoff for Cruz, who has suffered multiple setbacks over the past two year.
It's best to play it safe with him.
The concern is that from a business perspective, the bad blood between Cruz and Faber is marketable to book a trilogy fight between two guys who aren't crazy about each other, and that fight alone could see the winner challenge Barao further down the road.
Yet, another title fight for Faber?
Yes, chances are it would happen if he beats Cruz upon his return. That would be three opportunities at Barao, yet Faber may just earn it eventually. Plus, it may be in Cruz's best interest to take a fight to make sure he's not out of tune, which is something Barao would make him pay for dearly.
So, whom do you pick?
Team Alpha Male's great and all, but when Nova Uniao clearly has its number, it tells you whom the best fight camp dedicated to lower weight classes truly is. With Barao and his friend Aldo reigning supreme and representing South America in the lighter weight classes, we're dealing in an era where those two combatants have shown us how special a fighter can be.
That's the case with "The Baron" right now. Book them ... and they will fall.
With those names serving as potential opponents, there really isn't one that would make the fight sexier than the rest. Yes, Cruz has the name recognition -- and he certainly had great talent -- but it's hard to get excited for the return of a fragile fighter who will be forced to dive into the deep end after years away from competition against an absolute killer.
Barao is the most dangerous fighter on the planet right now, period, and one of the most gifted Bantamweights the sport has ever seen.
It's going to get lonely at the top. And Barao is going to have that familiar smile on his face the moment someone makes it up there.
For complete coverage of UFC 169: "Barao vs. Faber 2," including results, recaps and video highlights, click here.