Trilogies are precious commodities in mixed martial arts, Urijah Faber and Dominick Cruz were slated to join that prestigious club but an injury to the UFC bantamweight kingpin has put that title fight on ice, but opened the door for maybe a more interesting fight, even if it doesn’t have the verbal fisticuffs behind it.
The interim UFC bantamweight championship will be up for grabs this Saturday night in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with Faber pitted against once beaten Brazilian powerhouse Renan Barao.
Few people are more integral pieces in the puzzle of getting fighters south of 155-pounds noticed than Faber – A naturally athletic youth, he would dabble in other sports but wrestling was the area that grabbed his attention, setting records that still stand at Lincoln High School.
When he turned his attention to mixed martial arts in 2003 the UFC didn’t even have an active lightweight division, let alone a division to suit a small-framed Californian so he served as a weekend warrior while taking odd jobs on the side to pay the bills.
In 2007, with seventeen fights and two championships to his credit he signed exclusively with WEC, the sister-organization to the UFC who focused on the lighter weight-classes, which was where he shot to superstardom.
As WEC’s featherweight titlist for two-and-a-half years he would make 145-pounds their flagship division with classic meetings with Mike Thomas Brown and Jens Pulver before Brazilian bomber Jose Aldo forced him to test the waters at 135-pounds, and he hasn’t looked back since.
Crashing the division and making an impact right away he dominated former number-one contender Takeya Mizugaki before getting past former titlist Eddie Wineland on points to earn a date with Dominick Cruz.
Even though he would take him to the limits, and come closer than anyone else Faber was unsuccessful in his bid to take the title from his arch nemesis.
Wasting no time, he faced another former champion dominating Brian Bowles before submitting with with a beautiful guillotine-choke to earn another crack at the title.
California’s favorite fighter will be looking to win championship gold in two weight-classes on Saturday, a feat that only UFC icons BJ Penn and Randy Couture have achieved under the Zuffa umbrella but he has a real tough task ahead of him before he can join that illustrious group.
UFC color commentator Joe Rogan stated that Renan Barao might be the best fighter in the world that doesn’t hold a world title, and he might have a case for that – His father was a well-known boxer in his home land, so as you can guess he was donning the 12-ounce gloves at an early age.
In his mid-teens he was introduced to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu through a friend from school which was where he would really shine – Despite competing well above his weight at 167-pounds he would win the Rio Grande do Norte State crown as well as winning the North/Northeast Interstate Championship four times in as many years.
He jumped head-first into mixed martial arts three months after his 18th birthday losing his first and only fight in a small building with several hundred people in attendance before putting together the longest active winning streak in this sport.
Within a few years he would move to Rio De Janero, Brazil permanently to pair with the Nova Uniao camp under the guidance of Andre Pederneiras who would eventually award his 100th black belt to the talented bantamweight.
Barao would get noticed by all the major organizations in Brazil fighting for Shooto Brazil and Jungle Fights before he finally got the chance to test his abilities against the best at his weight class in the WEC.
Joining the now defunct sister-organization in 2010 he would only walk to the infamous blue cage on two occasions defeating Anthony Leone and Chris Cariaso before WEC was gobbled up by the UFC, incorporating the lower weight-classes into the fold.
Inside the confines of the UFC’s eight-sided cage his tests have got harder, but he still hasn’t shown sign of weakness dispatching top-ranked Brit Brad Pickett and former top-contender Scott Jorgensen, passing both tests with flying colors.
It’s a tired cliché, but every fight starts on the feet so let’s take a look at the striking repertoire of both combatants – Faber entered this game with pure wrestling and limited submission chops but over the years has morphed into one of the finer strikers at bantamweight.
The former WEC king relies purely on his boxing when on the feet, he is lightning-fast moving in-and-out of danger and when he gets his hands on you, he unloads with crisp, technical striking.
His meeting last July with his key rival Dominick Cruz proved that he has the ability to adapt and deal with even the most unorthodox and tricky striking games as the Alliance MMA product is always active with pitter-patter strikes with a culminative effect.
Barao isn’t like Cruz though, he’s exactly what you imagine when you think of a Nova Uniao fighter – Slick grappling with explosive muay-thai and kickboxing, his offence consists of a barrage of kicks, knees and punches between the legs, torso and head.
Dealing with a fighter like Barao is often a real task for most fighters because of his unpredictable nature and the way he mixes up his strikes to set up takedowns or to initiate the clinch where he is really effective.
The X-Factor in this fight for the Brazilian might reside in his back pocket too, his friend and training partner Jose Aldo didn’t just beat Faber, he blistered his left leg and sent him shipping out of the 145-pound division.
Not to mention, style-wise there are a lot of similarities between Aldo and Barao that he and his team can use to their advantage when game planning to defeat the most popular fighter in the division.
The last time we saw Faber in the cage against Brian Bowles he reverted back to his roots, relying strongly on his wrestling to force the fight to the floor – Faber possesses some of the best takedowns in the division as he changes levels and shoots a double-leg in trademark fashion.
With Barao likely looking to implement a kick-heavy offence on the feet it might be in his best interest to search for the takedown, but with that opens a whole new can of worms with two high-level grapplers.
Faber might only be a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu but don’t get it twisted, he can grapple with the best of them – His Alpha Male team has a foundation of strong wrestlers with submission games drilling chokes all day long.
That being said, Barao’s biggest strength might be his grappling – Rolling on the mats has been a part of his daily schedule for years, within his MMA career he has forced his foes to submit with a varying array of submissions including rear-naked-chokes, triangles, kneebars, toeholds and kimuras.
During his time in grappling competition his favorite submission maneuver was the triangle choke, due to dealing with larger opponents bullying him around with size he was able to find openings to catch them in chokes, this is a real possibility while dealing with a top-heavy wrestler like Faber with a real size edge.
One thing you have to take into consideration with this fight is the hectic schedule that Faber has been on – Faber has always wore many hats juggling many responsibilities between his fight life and gym but this time it was more intense than ever.
“The California Kid” served as the coach of the 15th installment of the hit reality series The Ultimate Fighter mentoring his team of fighters all vying for a six-figure contract with the UFC – This is always a real task for coaches but this time it was exemplified with a 13 week live format, almost double the time for other coaches.
Along with coaching his team of fighters that was also his training camp as he spent months on end preparing for a distinctly unique fighting in the bantamweight champ and now it’s all been changed up with a totally different style of test in Barao.
Oh, and did I mention he was touring the Country doing a press tour for his new motivational book Laws of The Ring?
He isn’t the only one with pressure on his shoulders though, Barao kills two birds with one stone, crossing to accomplishments off his ‘to do’ list fighting for his first championship in his first main event.
Barao has a lot of pressure on his shoulders with this fight, he’s beat a lot of fighters but none the caliber of Faber and he’s dealing with a fighter that has been on the big stage for years and thrives in that environment.
Faber has been widely regarded as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters for years now, but he has never held championship gold inside the UFC, he gets a chance to right that wrong on Saturday night but standing on the opposite side of the cage is a fighter equally as hungry to be called a champion.