Yesterday in London England, Renan Barao successfully defended his UFC Interim Bantamweight title by taking out Michael McDonald in the fourth round by arm triangle. Barao’s record sits at an astounding 30-1-1, and he has reeled off 20 wins in a row since a December 2007 ‘no contest’ in Brazil. The UFC really has a mess on their hands in the talent rich bantamweight division, as Dominic Cruz, who is the current champion, is coming off a series of injuries that have seen him sidelined since October 2011. His return date is still up in the air, so the UFC is left with an active, interim titleholder defending and an inactive official belt. What to do next?
Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo is booked at 145 pounds for the summer, and Barao is unlikely to go up a weight division until Aldo goes to Lightweight, so Barao’s next challenge will be at Bantamweight. Unless Barao sits until the fall (think November or even December), his next opponent will not be official titleholder Dominic Cruz.
Cruz has been out for more than a year, hobbled by knee injuries. Assuming he returns in the November time frame, it will have been more than 2 years since we last saw ‘The Dominator’ in the octagon. With that type of layoff, Cruz will face a tall order on his return for a unification bout with Barao if that is the scenario that plays out.
Next week, the UFC features a Bantamweight bout between Urijah Faber and Ivan Menjivar. The two men have met in the past, back in January of 2006, and Menjivar was DQ’d in the 2nd round for an illegal kick. Both men are very different fighters more than 7 years later, so there is little that an be taken from that fight to help prognosticate this coming encounter.
Faber is heavily favored at -360 or thereabouts at most of the books, with the comeback on Menjivar around +290. Should favor follow thru and win, we will see Faber vs Barao 2 sometime in the spring or summer. Barao took a hard fought 5 round Unanimous Decision victory over Faber in July of 2012, but Faber remains a UFC poster boy, and he is entering his mid 30′s.
Menjivar could rain on that parade with a win over Faber at UFC 157. That would open up doors for Scott Jorgensen, Eddie Wineland or Menjivar himself to be the next opponent for Barao. The UFC cannot sit Barao out waiting for Cruz to return healthy.
One thing is for certain, Barao will be favored over Faber. Should Faber stumble, he will be a pretty big favorite against the other contenders. And the way things look, Barao will be favored over Cruz too when Cruz returns. After all, Barao is on the verge of pound for pound status, and Cruz will be coming back after a two year layoff to face him if all goes well.