Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight hitters Jeremy Stephens and Renan Barao dueled last night (May 29, 2016) at UFC Fight Night 88 inside Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Stephens hasn't been winning consistently lately, but he still managed to prove himself as a Top 10-ranked Featherweight with some high-profile knockouts. Against the former Bantamweight champion, Stephens was hoping to earn one of the biggest wins of his career.
On the other hand, Barao needed to prove himself. Prior to losing a pair of championship bouts to T.J. Dillashaw, Barao was one of the absolute best in the world, and the Brazilian wishes to regain that position.
The fighters traded some kicks early, but it became clearly quickly that Barao was on point and fast. He repeatedly clipped Stephens with sharp punches and did a very nice job countering his opponent's strikes. Additionally, he showed better movement immediately, avoiding his foes wide shots.
In the second half of the round, both men looked for takedowns and to control the clinch, but neither found much success. Whenever they broke apart, Stephens swung for the fences, but the Brazilian landed the clean shots.
It was a very strong start to Barao's Featherweight career.
Barao opened the round with a few failed takedown attempts, and Stephens was starting to land. About a minute into the round, Stephens cracked his opponent with an uppercut that rocked his foe, though Barao recovered well.
Likely because of all the failed takedown attempts, Barao was a bit tired and punching far slower. Instead of missing, Stephens was landing far more consistently with power.
Barao finally scored a brief takedown in the final 20 seconds, but it was undoubtedly Stephens' round.
To his credit, Barao made some adjustments early and went back to his movement and quick striking. He obviously was a bit more tired than in the first round, but it was a far more effective strategy than exhausting himself trying to wrestle.
For three minutes, the two fighters engaged in a number of close exchanges with both fighters landing. Barao then finally scored his double leg, but Stephens managed to scramble up after about 30 seconds.
All in all, it was a very close round that both men had an argument to win. Therefore, the fight was very much up for grabs.
Ultimately, the judges unanimous decided to award Stephens the victory.
Stephens did his thing. He's an aggressive power puncher who doesn't abandon his search for the knockout, and that ended up working wonders. Early on, Stephens was getting plastered by punches. Many fighters would've shelled up or shot for long range takedowns, but Stephens stayed the path and kept walking his opponent down.
Eventually, Barao got tired, and Stephens began to land. When "Lil Heathen" lands, he lands hard. Those punches took their toll on Barao and impressed the judges enough to award him the victory. Despite this being a major victory, Stephens has already faced a majority of the fighters in the top 10. Instead, he'll probably end up squaring off with someone trying to break into those rankings.
Barao really should've done far better in this match up. For the entirety of the first round, he picked his opponent apart without much issue and landed some powerful shots. Without the devastating weight cut to 135 lbs., he should've been able to do that for the entire fight.
Instead, Barao insisted on clinching and wrestling with the bigger, stronger fighter. It slowed him down to Stephens level, which allowed his opponent to force a firefight.
Simply put, Stephens is better in brawls than his smaller foe.
On the bright side, Barao proved that he can compete with a top Featherweight. If he makes some adjustments, the Brazilian could win that fight and be a serious threat to much of the division.
Last night, Jeremy Stephens won an entertaining brawl with Renan Barao. Can Stephens go on a win streak and make an impact on the Featherweight division?
For complete UFC Fight Night 88: "Garbrandt vs Almeida" results and play-by-play, click HERE!