Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Bantamweight talents Renan Barao and Andre Ewell will face off this Saturday (Sept. 22, 2018) at UFC Fight Night 137 inside Ginasio do Ibirapuera in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Just seven fights ago, Barao was atop the Bantamweight mountain. Holding a 32-1 (1) record with a trio of title defenses to his name, the Brazilian seemed to be firmly in control of his division. Then, he lost his crown and his problems snowballed terribly. At this point, Barao is now fighting for his position on the roster. Ewell is a new face and step back from the recent men who defeated Barao, but he is not to be taken lightly. A majority of “Mr. Highlight’s” victories came via strikes, and his 75 inch reach is the longest in the Bantamweight division.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Record: 34-6 (1)
Key Wins: Urijah Faber (UFC 169, UFC 149), Eddie Wineland (UFC 165), Michael McDonald (UFC on Fuel TV 7)
Key Losses: T.J. Dillashaw (UFC on FOX 16, UFC 173), Jeremy Stephens (UFC Fight Night 88), Aljamain Sterling (UFC 214)
Keys to Victory: It’s hard to pinpoint exactly which part of Barao’s game has fallen off so hard. At his best, Barao was a heavy kicker with a precision jab, strong wrestler, and had lethal Brazilian jiu-jitsu in his back pocket. He still shows flashes of those abilities, but Barao no longer seems able to do anything consistently without fatiguing.
In this bout, there’s a clear path to victory for Barao. He’s facing a lanky kickboxer with a pair of submission defeats on his record. There’s no reason for Barao to strike with a long-range Southpaw, as he should be looking to implement his grappling and experience advantages immediately.
Given Ewell’s range advantage, closing the distance before the shot will be important. To that end, I’d like to see Barao kick the inside of the leg. If he can force Ewell to withdraw that leg — either from the force of the kick or to avoid it — Barao should be able to follow up with punches and get the taller man to the fence.
Key Wins: Willie Gates (KOTC: Never Quit), Gustavo Lopez (KOTC: Energetic Pursuit),
Key Losses: Patrick Mix (KOTC: Ultimate Mix)
Keys to Victory: An athletic Bantamweight with power in his hands, Ewell has won eight of his previous nine bouts. Overall, Ewell has been able to lay waste to most of his opposition when able to keep the fight standing.
Barao will definitely test his defensive grappling, but if Ewell can weather that storm, this is a really great opportunity for him.
As mentioned, a major part of Barao’s problem is that he seems to fade rather quickly — this is no longer the man who soundly defeated Urijah Faber over five rounds. That’s particularly true when forced to wrestle, perhaps the most tiring aspect of mixed martial arts (MMA). Seeing as Barao likely has to wrestle to win, Ewell largely just has to make it difficult for him and avoid getting submitted to see himself up for success later in the fight.
The best way to deny takedowns and make wrestling difficult is to control distance in the first place, which is something Ewell has proven himself skilled at in the past. Opposite Barao, I’d like to see Ewell pick at Barao with straight shots (75 inch reach!!!) and slam home a left body kick at any opportunity, as it can’t hurt to start attacking the cardio early.
Bottom Line: It may be Barao’s last stand.
Barao may be just 31 years old, but he’s looked genuinely mediocre as of late. Former champions may get away with pedestrian performances in other divisions — go watch Andrei Arlovski’s fight from a couple nights ago if you don’t believe me — but Bantamweight is surging with talent right now. There’s a crop of new contenders and prospects pushing forward every couple months, and that puts a ton of pressure on Barao to figure out his issues and get back in the win column.
Otherwise, it’s over.
Meanwhile, this is a great chance for Ewell to add his name to that deep list of 135-pound talent with a victory over someone people know ... even if it isn’t the Barao of old. That said, Bantamweight being so stacked right now is an issue for Ewell as well, as defeat would leave him on relatively thin ice moving forward.
At UFC Fight Night 137, Renan Barao and Andre Ewell will battle on the main card. Which man will earn the victory?