Two of the best bantamweights on the planet will meet this Saturday night (Feb. 4, 2012) as fast-rising Brazilian prospect Renan Barao takes on former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) title challenger Scott Jorgensen on the main card of UFC 143 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Barao has incredibly gone 28 fights without defeat and he finally made his mark on the division last November in a thrilling battle against fellow bantamweight contender Brad Pickett in which the Brazilian waxed his opponent in the first round. The Nova Uniao fighter is working toward a potential title shot in 2012 and a victory over a former top contender would do wonders for his standing in the division.
Scott Jorgensen has quietly gone 2-0 in the UFC ever since losing his title shot to Dominick Cruz in the final WEC show ever. He crushed Ken Stone via knockout and held off wily veteran Jeff Curran in 2011 and with both Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez dropping to flyweight, he's hoping to fill the void they left behind as top contenders at 135 pounds.
Can Renan Barao surpass the hype by passing his toughest test to date? Will "Young Guns" Jorgensen shoot down the Brazilians soaring momentum? How does each bantamweight score a victory this weekend?
Let's find out:Renan Barao
Record: 27-1 (1 No Contest) overall, 2-0 in the UFC
Key Wins: Brad Pickett (UFC 138), Cole Escovedo (UFC 130), Chris Cariaso (WEC 53)
Key Losses: none
How he got here: 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 followed it up by going into Brad Pickett's homeland at UFC 138 and completely and utterly crushing the Brit by knocking him down in the first round and then choking him out to instantly burst into contention.
He's hoping a follow-up victory over a former title challenger in Jorgensen will put him over the top for an eventual title shot.
How he gets it done: In this fight, Renan Barao needs to either keep his distance, or get to the canvas. His striking has progressed very quickly and 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 Jorgensen get inside as "Young Guns" has some very powerful short strikes.
Barao showcased much improved boxing in his last fight and his overall game is rounding out nicely. If he feels he's got a speed and technique edge, he's going to keep this fight standing as long as possible, only going to the ground if he drops Jorgensen with a kick, knee or punch.
If he can force a scramble, Barao is lightning quick with his ability to hop onto his opponent's back and once there, a fight-ending rear naked choke is almost inevitable. Look for the young Brazilian to perhaps try to reverse a takedown attempt or maybe even shoot for one of his own if Jorgensen is on his heels in the striking.
Expect anything and everything from this young star in the making as he has grown by leaps and bounds in nearly all of his skills.
Record: 13-4 overall, 2-0 in the UFC
Key Wins: Brad Pickett (WEC 50), Takaya Mizugaki (WEC 45), Jeff Curran (UFC 137),
Key Losses: Dominick Cruz (WEC 53), Damacio Page (WEC 32)
How he got here: Scotty Jorgensen was a successful wrestler in college, competing in Division I at Boise State and he transitioned to mixed martial arts in 2006. In just his sixth professional bout, he was competing in the WEC at bantamweight.
"Young Guns" wasn't given the easy rode either, getting thrown to the likes of Damacio Page, Kenji Osawa and Antonio Banuelos in three of his first four WEC bouts. His controversial split decision loss to Banuelos lit a fire under him and he reeled off five consecutive victories to earn a title shot against champion Dominick Cruz in the final WEC event ever late last year.
Jorgensen was a step slow against Cruz and was beaten to the punch badly over the course of five rounds, losing a dominant unanimous decision. He got back on track against Ken Stone in his last bout, knocking American Top Team fighter out cold from within his full guard on the ground.
In his last fight, "Young Guns" took on veteran bantamweight and former WEC title challenger Jeff Curran. Jorgensen outwrestled his opponent over the course of three rounds, surviving submission and sweep attempts to score a unanimous decision. The Boise State alumni then accepted a bout against the up and coming Barao in an effort to get back into the title picture.
How he gets it done: Jorgensen is not the fastest guy in the division by a long shot, but he makes up for it with power. If he can connect with a big punch, your lights will go out and if he lock up your neck with a guillotine choke like his brutal finish against Chad George last year.
Jorgensen is also patient in the stand-up, he does a good job of sitting back and striking when openings are available rather than forcing the issue. When his opponents get too aggressive in the stand-up realm, he's also got that solid wrestling in his back pocket where he can shoot in and put an opponent on their back.
It'll be an interesting dynamic to see if Jorgensen is confident enough in his wrestling and submission defense to shoot in on Barao and go for takedowns and ground and pound. His Brazilian opponent is extremely competent on the canvas, but Jorgensen has not been submitted in well over five years now so he shouldn't be fearful of anything.
Expect to see Jorgensen stand with Barao as long as he feels he's got the advantage there but if Barao is picking him apart, "Young Guns" will go to his bread and butter which is his wrestling. As long as he keeps his elbows tight on the ground and doesn't allow Barao to control his posture, he should be fine from top position.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight is how Barao deals with a strong wrestler. We've seen him dominate strikers and well-rounded fighters but what will happen when a strong top control wrestler with powerful ground and pound like Scott Jorgensen puts him on his back and keeps him there?
We haven't seen a ton of his bottom game or if he's capable of fending off big takedowns. We also haven't seen if he has the ability to sweep opponents. It will be interesting to discover this information live in the Octagon. If he can't deal with someone holding him down and occasionally punching him in the face, we might have to re-evaluate where he stands in the division.
Bottom Line: This fight has all the makings of a terrific battle. In the stand-up department, both young men are exciting and hit very hard. They are both capable of scoring a knockout blow on the feet. Barao has more weapons in the striking and he's quicker, so it will be an interesting dynamic to see how Jorgensen reacts to his movement and speed. On the ground, Jorgensen has some ferocious ground and pound while Barao is extremely aggressive with submissions and scrambles. Again, both men are capable of putting on a great show on the canvas. The only potential lull in the action would be if Barao can't deal with a top control wrestler and Jorgensen is too concerned with the Brazilian's submissions to be active from above. Those odds are very low, however, so prepare yourselves for what should be a very fun battle.
Who will come out on top at UFC 143? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!