Two of the most talented bantamweight fighters on the planet will meet this Saturday night (November 5, 2011) as Brad Pickett makes his UFC debut against top Brazilian prospect Renan Barao in the co-main event of UFC 138 in Birmingham, England.
Pickett's debut with the promotion was delayed after a painful back injury earlier this summer, but "One Punch" is fully rehabilitated and ready to stake his claim as one of the next title contenders. But first, he's going to have to get through Barao, a fighter who hasn't lost in his last 27 fights over a six year period.
Renan Barao has one of the best records in MMA, but now it's time to back it up against elite competition. In Brad Pickett, he sees an opportunity to legitimize himself as he's yet to be tested against a top 25 ranked opponent thus far in his career. If he can defeat the talented Brit, he'll prove the hype is real.
Can Pickett win one for the home team by stepping up in his native England? Will Barao keep his ridiculous unbeaten streak alive? What must each elite bantamweight have to do to continue the forward progression of their careers on Saturday night?
Let's find out:
Record: 21-4 overall, 0-0 in the UFC
Key Wins: Demetriuos Johnson (WEC 48), Ivan Menjivar (WEC 53),
Key Losses: Scott Jorgensen (WEC 50), Hideo Tokoro (K-1 Dynamite!! USA)
How he got here: Originally transitioning into MMA from boxing, Brad Pickett cut his teeth in the UK's Cage Rage promotion, winning and defending the featherweight title in his first six professional bouts. After five full years of fighting which resulted in an impressive 18-3 record, "One Punch" would earn an invite to the WEC.
He would make a tremendous splash in his promotional debut, winning via Peruvian necktie against Kyle Dietz in one of 2009's finest submissions which also took home a "Submission of the Night" bonus. He would next appear on the main card of WEC 48, the promotion's first and only pay-per-view against newcomer Demetrious Johnson. Pickett defeated Johnson in a blistering back and forth battle that likely would have garnered a Fight of the Night bonus had Chan Sung Jung - Leonard Garcia not taken place earlier in the night.
He would go on to suffer his first and only loss under the Zuffa banner against Scott Jorgensen in another thrilling bout that saw him take home yet another bonus. Lastly, Pickett battled veteran Ivan Menjivar on the preliminary card of WEC 53 in one of the year's most exciting bouts, but his thunder was stolen by Anthony Pettis' "Showtime Kick" later that same night.
The top British bantamweight was geared up for his UFC debut this summer against Miguel Torres but was sidelined with a back injury. Now fully recovered, he's ready to make a big splash fighting in front of his native country.
How he gets it done: Pickett will likely be the larger fighter in the cage, and he would be wise to keep this fight standing. The Brit will have a striking advantage, especially in the punching department. The primary area Pickett will want to keep this fight is in the pocket, where he can trade strikes while staying close enough to avoid any crazy kicks.
If the fight goes to the ground, Pickett shouldn't panic as he's actually scored more wins by submission than anything else in his career thus far. That being said, he definitely does not want to find himself on his back against Barao and he would prefer not to have to be on the defensive while on the ground.
As evidenced by his last three fights, Pickett is more than comfortable standing in the center of the cage and trading blows. The key for him will be to not overextend himself an allow an easy takedown. As long as he's not caught off balance, he should be strong and skilled enough to keep this fight standing and force Barao to play his game.
Record: 26-1 (1 No Contest) overall, 1-0 in the UFC
Key Wins: Cole Escovedo (UFC 130), Chris Cariaso (WEC 53), Anthony Leone (WEC 49)
Key Losses: none
How he got here: Despite being nine years younger than Pickett, Renan Barao started his career just 5 months after the talented Brit. 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's hoping a win against a top opponent like Pickett will shoot him up the divisional rankings.
How he gets it done: In this fight, Renan Barao needs to either keep his distance, or get to the canvas. He's not the most skilled striker, but 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 Pickett get too close or he's going to find himself on the receiving end of some solid punches.
The key for Barao is to find the opportune moment to shoot in and try to get this fight to the ground. If he has to stand and eat some strikes from Pickett before he gets an opening, so be it. Once on the ground, Barao is extremely aggressive. He's so aggressive, in fact, that he accidentally allows his opponents to retain guard or gives them space to scramble back to their feet while he's trying to pass to a more dominant position.
If he gets the fight to the ground, Barao needs to be more patient. If he tries to haphazardly pass Pickett's guard, he's either going to get swept or Pickett will pop right back up to his feet. That's the last thing in the world he wants to do.
Fight "X-Factor:" The X-Factor for this fight is the major jump in competition level as well as the jump into the spotlight for Barao. He's been in the opening fight of the night in all three of his previous bouts under the Zuffa banner. While he was able to be victorious for those matches, the pressure was significantly smaller and there were considerably less eyes watching.
Barao has a ton of talent, but he also had some trouble against Cole Escovedo, a fighter who has lost four of his last five bouts. Brad Pickett is the real deal, a top 10 opponent who will test him in all facets of the game. Thankfully, the Brazilian trains out of Nova Uniao alongside some of the best lighter weight fighters on the planet, but that isn't a perfect substitute for a real fight situation. He's going to find out quickly whether be belongs with the top tier of bantamweights on Saturday.
Bottom Line: This is one of the most significant bantamweight fights of 2011, plain and simple. It got co-main event billing for a reason. As of right now, nearly everyone in the top 10 at 135 pounds has already fought and lost to champion Dominick Cruz, but neither Pickett or Barao have stepped in against the champion. Whoever wins this match will be putting themselves one step closer to a title shot, perhaps becoming one fight removed from a shot or even stepping up next in line in case of an injury to the Urijah Faber vs. Brian Bowles winner. This fight is not only going to be important, it should be a riveting battle and Brad Pickett has delivered every time he's ever competed for Zuffa. Don't expect Saturday night to be any less.
Who will come out on top at UFC 138? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!