UFC 173 complete fighter breakdown, Renan Barao edition

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

MMAmania.com resident fighter analyst Andrew Richardson breaks down the mixed martial arts (MMA) game of UFC 173 headliner Renan Barao, who looks defend his title for the second time against T.J. Dillashaw this Saturday night (May 24, 2014) at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Bantamweight champion, Renan Barao, looks to extend his record-setting mixed martial arts (MMA) win streak (32) at the expense of NCAA Division 1 wrestler, T.J. Dillashaw, this Saturday night (May 24, 2014) at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

After losing the first bout of his professional MMA career, Barao has not tasted defeat in nine years.

And he has no intention of letting that streak end any time soon.

Since taking a decision over Urijah Faber to win the interim title, Barao has stepped up his aggression to another level. He's finished his last three opponents in devastating fashion, capped off by a technical knockout victory over Faber in the rematch just a few months ago. Can he continue to finish top ranked opposition and turn away the hungry "Viper?"

Let's find out:

Striking

A vicious Muay Thai striker training with the likes of Jose Aldo and Johny Eduardo at Nova Uniao, Barao is one of the most effective strikers in the sport. Though he comes from a grappling background, much of Barao's success stems from his striking expertise. In addition, Barao has managed to develop a style that allows him to throw some of his preferred flashier strikes without much risk.

Barao is a very strong boxer. His jab is much better than a majority of fighters and lands with a hard snap. Barao uses his jab to repel any attempts to close range and ensure that his opponent is always in prime position to eat a hard kick. Barao is not limited to single jabs and uses them to set up other combinations as well, such as the 1-2.

Outside of his attempts to finish or brawl, Barao generally restricts himself to two and three punch boxing combinations. These combos aren't especially complex, but speed, accuracy and power go a long way in making his strikes effective. This is smart for Barao, as the Brazilian's defense becomes noticeably weaker as his combinations grow in length.

Barao does a majority of his damage with his kicks. As a very large bantamweight, all of Barao's kicks have a clear impact on his opponent. It's very difficult for his foe to merely walk through his shots without being staggered.

The Nova Uniao-trained fighter's leg kicks are particularly devastating. These power shots seriously hinder his opponent's movement and make it even more difficult for them to close the distance. Despite his dedication to wearing his opponent down with leg kicks, his setups can be hit or miss.

When Barao combines the jab and low kick, it's a very effective combination, as it's nearly impossible to counter the leg kick while moving away from the jab. However, Barao also throws kicks with no setup fairly often. Due to the virtually impenetrable nature of the single leg takedown defense of Nova Uniao's elite, it has yet to cost Barao in terms of takedowns. However, Wineland and Jorgensen were able to threaten with and land straight right hand counters when Barao threw bare leg kicks.

In his last bout with Urijah Faber, Barao used the threat of his low kick to set up a spectacular straight right hand. Just after landing a hard leg kick, Barao went upstairs with his right hand. With Faber's mind still on his recently hammered leg, he went to check a kick that wasn't coming. Instead, he absorbed the full power of Barao's right while standing on one leg.

Outside of his leg kick, Barao has a few tools to maintain distance. His roundhouse kicks to the head and body are legitimate threats and usually are powerful enough to force his opponent to back off a bit. Plus, he'll occasionally use teep or switch kicks as well.

One of Barao's most important weapons is his spinning back kick. This kick does not maintain distance; it knocks his opponent far out of range and forces him to start all over again in his attempt to get close. Barao usually lands at his opponent's chest, but this kick can easily become a knockout blow if his opponent times a slip poorly.

In addition to his kicks, Barao has a number of strong knee attacks. His flying knee -- which he loves to throw after landing a spinning kick and forcing his opponent's back to the cage -- is positively violent. In addition, Barao has used his stepping knee a couple of times to alter the course of a fight. Against Faber, Barao pushed the Californian back and then broke his ribs with a knee after he bounced off the cage. Earlier in his career, Barao ended a brawl with Brad Pickett by landing directly on the stockier fighter's jaw with a knee and then finishing him short after.

When he isn't attempting to wrestle his opponent, Barao's ability to win largely depends upon maintaining his range and controlling the distance. Using his jab and kicks, Barao does an excellent job keeping his opponents far away from him, where they can't really shoot for effective takedowns. This also forces his opponent to trade kicks with him, and few fighters in any division have his kicking abilities

Since maintaining the distance is so important to Barao's game, he firmly enforces it. Whenever his opponent presses forward, Barao will move straight backwards -- which is a separate issue -- and see if his opponent continues following him. If he does, Barao will plants his feet and fire back a few hard counter punches. He's able to do this in part thanks to his length, which lets him land even when his opponent comes up short.

In terms of defense, Barao has shown a couple of issues. Backing straight up is never as good as angling off, and it could leave him stuck up against the fence or at the end of kicks. In addition, Barao's willingness to brawl is risky. He could've defeated Brad Pickett without taking any damage by fighting intelligently, but he instead fought to "One Punch's" level.

Wrestling

It's rarely his primary goal, but Barao packs a solid offensive wrestling game. Plus, he's been taken down just a single time in his entire Zuffa career, during his debut against Anthony Leone in a catchweight bout.

When Barao fought Cole Escovedo in his UFC debut, the lanky "Apache Kid's" stand up was making him a bit uncomfortable. To overcome this slight difficulty, Barao began to power through Escovedo with strong double leg takedowns against the fence. During his many takedowns, Barao was repeatedly able to get in deep on his opponent's hips.

Barao also possesses a capable clinch game, which he used to take Michael McDonald off of his feet. It wasn't especially technical, but Barao used underhooks and strength to force "Mayday" onto his back and eventually force a submission.

When Barao fought Eddie Wineland, his offensive takedowns did not look particularly good. That's in part due to Wineland's fantastic takedown defense, but Barao also failed to set up his shots at all. That will work against someone like Escovedo, but an elite wrestler will not stumble so easily.

Speaking of fantastic takedown defense, Barao is one of the most difficult men to take down in the sport. Currently sporting a 96% successful takedown defense rate according to Fightmetric, Barao has fought some excellent wrestlers such as Urijah Faber and Scott Jorgensen and never really came close to getting taken down.

That isn't to say that Jorgensen did not earn some good positions. Over the course of three rounds, he managed to secure a strong body lock and get in deep on Barao's hips with a double. In both situations, Barao was just too strong for the current Flyweight to drag down.

The difficulty in taking down Barao is largely due to his range control. His leg kicks may not be set up particularly well, but his limp leg defense is so good that it really doesn't matter in terms of takedowns. Plus, Barao often uses the leg kick to counter forward movement, basically baiting his opponent into trying to catch it rather than work for a different takedown. He's feeding his opponent directly into his best defense and doing damage at the same time.

If his opponent doesn't try to catch the leg, he usually shoots from too far out. Barao is too strong, skilled, and well-balanced to get tripped up by a shot from the kickboxing range. It just won't work against a fighter of his caliber. As his skill set sits now, Barao's opponent's best chance to take him down is likely with a deep double against the cage, but that's easier said than done.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

A black belt under Andre Pederneiras, Barao possesses some of the best jiu-jitsu in the division. With fourteen submission victories under his belt, Barao has showcased a constant finishing instinct regardless of where the fight takes place.

As mentioned above, Barao has been taken down just once by Anthony Leone. However, he wasn't on his back for long, as he immediately began a smooth chain of jiu-jitsu attacks. After rolling up on a kneebar from half guard, a quick transition to a heel hook allowed Barao an easy sweep. Not long after, Barao countered Leone's kimura attempt with a spin around arm bar. In his first fight on American soil, Barao announced that his ground game was not to be toyed with.

Another very cool jiu-jitsu scramble in Barao's World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) took place in his second bout with Cariaso. After some beautiful guard passing, Barao grabbed a kimura when Cariaso attempted to turn in from side control. From there, he used his figure four grip on Cariaso's arm to hop onto "Kamikaze's" back.

It's not often that a transition can be described as explosive, but that's the perfect word for Barao's back take on Pickett. After rocking "One Punch" with a stepping knee and flurry of hooks, Barao followed him to the mat. It seemed that Pickett recovered, so he tried to spin away back to his feet. Barao reached out and secured a seat belt grip, which is the most secure grip for back mount. He then jumped forward, hanging off Pickett's shoulder, and slid his one knee around Pickett's body. This allowed him to sneak in the other hook and then pull Pickett on top of him.

Once Barao is on the back, he likes to use a single wrist ride to pull one of his opponent's arms away from his face. While he does this, he stretches out of his opponent with his legs. From this position, Barao tries to sneak his other arm under the chin. As soon as he moves with his free hand, he releases the wrist ride and locks in the rear naked choke grip.

As should be expected of a Nova Uniao fighter, Barao will also attack with the arm triangle choke. After having his back taken, Michael McDonald was understandably in a bit of a rush to get Barao off of him. He turned in but also let Barao keep a grip around his head and arm. After securing the grip, Barao inched off to side control and slowly applied pressure until he got the tap.

Best Chance For Success

It's very important that Barao keeps himself off the fence and in the center of the cage. If he avoids the fence, Dillashaw will have a much harder time taking him to the mat, which would favor Dillashaw. Instead of having to deal with the Californian's wrestling, he could be working towards a knockout in the center of the Octagon.

In order to defeat Dillashaw, Barao needs to throw lots of kicks. A major stretch, I know. But, Dillashaw has yet to check any leg kicks and was put off-balance by a couple of Mike Easton's body kicks. Barao certainly has the power to knock Dillashaw around with his kicks, leaving him in prime position to get smacked around with punches.

After frustrating Dillashaw with his kicks, Barao should do his best to catch "The Viper" coming in with punches. Dillashaw has shown some susceptibility to counter strikers, and Barao has the ability to catch him coming in. After that, it becomes a question of whether or not Dillashaw can survive under the pressure of Barao's killer instinct.

Not many have.

Will Barao continue to defend his title and work up the pound-for-pound rankings or can Dillashaw pull off one of the biggest upsets in UFC history?

For a closer look and "Complete Fighter Breakdown" of Dillashaw be sure to click here.

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