Brazilian bruiser, Renan Barao, will look to find more success in his rematch with Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Bantamweight kingpin, T.J. Dillashaw, this Saturday (July 25, 2015) at UFC on FOX 16 inside United Center in Chicago, Illinois.
Last year was likely the most disappointing of Barao's career, which is really just a testament to how dominant the Brazilian had been prior, since he went 2-1 and defended his UFC title at one point. Having put together a 30-fight unbeaten streak over nine years, Barao was known as one of the pound-for-pound greats and didn't appear to be going anywhere.
Until Dillashaw stepped to the plate and landed a home run in the form of uppercuts, overhands and head kicks.
Since that loss, Barao has struggled a bit. He knocked himself out of the rematch -- literally -- during his weight cut, and his victory over Mitch Gagnon was far from his best performance. Regardless, Barao will look to put that behind him and regain his belt on Saturday.
Let's take a look at the former champion's skill set:
Barao is a very talented Muay Thai fighter. The Brazilian punishes his opponents with heavy strikes and is also willing to brawl when engaged. Thanks to his size advantage over most bantamweights and natural power, exchanging with Barao is very often a risky proposition.
There's really no surprise a fighter with Barao's build would look to maintain distance so rigidly. Barao is very insistent on keeping a healthy amount of space between himself and his opponent, which benefits him and his long range punches and kicks.
Since Barao is not the most fleet-footed of fighters, he doesn't look to avoid confrontation. Instead, the Brazilian bullies any opponent willing to push forward, slamming home strikes and discouraging future attempts.
Perhaps the most important part of Barao's boxing game is his jab. There are certainly some problems with Barao's overall boxing attack, but none of them relate to his jab, as the Brazilian lands the strike with a nice snap at the very end of his range. In addition, Barao uses the strike properly, as it allows him to keep distance, do damage and build further combinations.
Outside of his jab, Barao mostly relies on simple and short combinations. Usually, he's following up his jab with a long cross or heavy overhand, and the Brazilian will occasionally continue his attack with a left hook. It's not all that complicated, but Barao's size and athleticism make it more than effective.
Barao does a majority of his damage with kicks. While keeping his opponent away with the jab, Barao slams home his shin into the lead leg. Once Barao has found his kicking range, his size advantage is especially apparent and helpful. His low kicks clearly affect his opponents' movements and ability to close the distance, as well as knocking them off balance.
Despite the fact that his game relies heavily on his leg kicks, Barao's set ups are inconsistent. On some occasions, he'll blind his opponent with a quick jab before crushing the thigh. While moving back from the jab or attempting to slip it, his opponent can't check the kick. However, Barao will also throw leg kicks without any setup often. His limp leg takedown defense often lets him get away with this, but Dillashaw capitalized on it with plenty of counter strikes.
In Barao's most recent win over Urijah Faber, Barao built off the threat of the low kick and other low strikes. Barao started with a level change feint and body jab, then he switched landed a hard low kick. Next, Barao aggressively stepped into a right hand. Faber -- whose mind was still thinking low -- went to check a nonexistent kick, and fully absorbed the power shot while standing on one leg.
Outside of his low kick, Barao has other dangerous kicking techniques in his arsenal. His roundhouse kicks to the body and head are fairly powerful and usually knock his opponents off-balance. Additionally, he will occasionally attack with switch and teep kicks.
The other tool Barao is well-known for is his spinning back kick.This kick doesn't just maintain distance -- it blasts his opponent backward and forces him to begin his entry anew. Though it's aimed at his opponent's chest, a mistimed feint or slip can turn this kick into a knockout blow.
Finally, Barao frequently attacks with a variety of knee strikes. After pushing his opponent into the fence with his spinning back kick, Barao often closes the newly created distance with a charging flying knee. In addition, Barao has a very nice stepping knee. He managed to break one of Faber's ribs with a knee to the body after "The California Kid" bounced off the cage, and his finish of Brad Pickett started with a stepping knee to the jaw.
When Barao's opponent is particularly aggressive in his attempts to close the distance, the Brazilian chooses from one of two attacks. Much of the time, Barao will simply keep his guard high and back away. Alternatively, Barao will standing his ground and fire off a combination of left hooks and crosses, looking to knock his opponent's head off for daring to step towards him.
For the most part, these strategies have been hugely successful for Barao. When they work, both techniques are effective at discouraging his opponent's attempts to get close, as he's either missing strikes or suddenly getting cracked.
However, the feints, diverse arsenal and deep combinations of Dillashaw allowed him to turn the tables. If Barao moved away, Dillashaw would extend his combination and continually land on Barao. When the Brazilian looked to stand his ground and slug, Dillashaw slipped the slower power shots and popped Barao with quick punches of his own.
Barao is an effective offensive wrestler in large part thanks to his physicality, but he's truly a masterful defensive wrestler in mixed martial arts (MMA). In fact, even Dillashaw had a very difficult time taking down Barao despite putting him on Queer Street numerous times.
Offensively, Barao's takedowns are not the most complicated, but he's successful more often than not. He largely relies on his double leg, backing his opponent into the fence before changing levels with the shot. Once in on his opponent's hips, Barao will lift and slam his opponent down to the mat.
In the clinch, Barao's physical strength once again reigns supreme. Against Michael McDonald, Barao repeatedly threw his opponent onto the mat simply by utilizing deep underhooks and occasional trips.
Officially, Barao has never been taken down inside the Octagon. He's a powerhouse in close quarters, able to force his way out of body locks and deep double legs without much issue.
Plus, Barao's ability to maintain distance is a huge part of his success. Once his opponent is stuck on the outside of Barao's jab, his chance of securing a takedown has basically evaporated. Simply put, a successful takedown against Barao must be both well set up and from the proper distance, and the Brazilian does an excellent job making both tasks difficult.
Finally, Barao's stance and emphasis on low kicks feeds into his limp leg defense, much like Jose Aldo. If Barao's opponent looks to catch the leg or just chases a single, Barao quickly turn away and yank his leg from his foe's grasp. Additionally, Barao will put heavy pressure on his opponent's head, breaking posture and making the takedown even harder to finish.
A Nova Uniao black belt, Barao is an excellent finisher on the mat. With 15 submission victories to his credit, Barao has utilized many of the techniques common to Andre Pederneiras-trained fighters.
For the first time in a long time, Barao actually spent a decent amount of time on his back in his title loss to Dillashaw, which finally shed some light on his bottom game. In short, the Brazilian confirmed that he loves to roll up on kneebars, a technique he used to sweep Anthony Leone back in the World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC). He also looked for the kimura, which he also looks for from top position.
From the top, Barao is rather aggressive in transitions, as he's always hunting for the back. For example, Barao countered Chris Cariaso's attempt to reverse position from side control with a kimura. As "Kamikaze" scrambled away, Barao hopped right onto his back.
The more well known example came against Brad Pickett. After getting dropped, "One Punch" looked to return to his feet by kicking Barao's hips from the guard. As he spun away, Barao sprang forward and secured a seat belt grip in mid-air. From there, he slid one knee in and pulled Pickett on top of him. As the Englishman fell, Barao threw his other hook in to finish the transition.
To finish with the rear naked, Barao loves to use wrist control. As he pushes one arm down from his opponent's chin, Barao uses his legs to stretch his opponent out. From this position, Barao will look jam his other arm under the chin, or punch until an opening arises. Once it's under the neck, Barao will release the wrist and lock in the rear-naked choke grip.
Barao is also skilled with the arm-triangle choke, a signature move of the Nova Uniao camp. Inside the Octagon, Barao has hunted for this submission in transition, rather than trying to force the move. As his opponent looks to escape from his back mount, Barao will allow him to turn in but trap the head and arm.
From there, Barao completes the submission nicely, moving perpendicular to his opponent and dropping his shoulder down into the neck.
Best Chance For Success
While basically everything Dillashaw attempted worked for him in the first fight, Barao now should have a very good understanding of what he's facing. If he doesn't change his style up a bit, Barao is almost certainly in for another beat down.
To avoid that, there are two main keys for Barao. Most important, Barao needs to kick much more often. Dillashaw slipped many of Barao's punches, but it's much harder to avoid an entire shin. Plus, any landed kicks will wear on Dillashaw and momentarily pin him in place, which could open up an avenue for Barao's power punches.
In addition, Barao cannot sit so heavily on his counter punches. Dillashaw made it a habit to score with punches, slip the obvious counter, and then land once more. Instead of trying to knockout the champion with each counter shot, Barao should pop off a jab or two and then circle away.
If Barao remains committed to a game plan he could make this a rather different fight than their first scrap.
Will Renan Barao return to his throne or will Dillashaw once again prove himself the better man?