Crash Course: Renan Barão vs. Urijah Faber
During the week leading up to every UFC championship bout, SI.com presents a crash course to the big fight. UFC 169, which takes place on Saturday, will feature two title tilts. We've already previewed the co-main event, in which José Aldo defends the featherweight championship against Ricardo Lamas. Today: a guide to the main event.
We hear it all the time: A fighter wins a UFC championship, and in the leadup to his first title defense he humbly says, "I won't consider myself the true champion until I've defended the belt."
Renan Barão has said no such thing. He didn't say it even when he was merely an interim champ.
Pretty much as soon as he took possession of the faux belt, a turn of events that was deemed necessary by the fight promotion a year and a half ago because of the extended absence of injured 135-pound king Dominick Cruz, Barão became comfortable wearing the mantle of champion.
He said as much in the leadup to what was to be a champion vs. interim champion clash with Cruz. He said it even more assuredly once Cruz had to pull out of this weekend's fight because of still another injury and Barão was given a new opponent and a shiny new accessory: the real UFC bantamweight belt.
"I consider myself the champion," he told Fighters Only magazine, speaking words he's repeated many times, "It's me who is training, fighting, defending the belt, not him."
And so it goes.
When Barão meets Urijah Faber at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on Saturday (10 p.m. ET, PPV), it will be Renan's first defense with the true bantamweight championship after two as interim champ, that biding-time strap having been earned via a unanimous-decision victory over Faber in July 2012. Their rematch is the main event of UFC 169, a fight card that also features another title bout, in which José Aldo -- Barão's training partner in the Nova União gym in Rio de Janeiro -- defends his featherweight belt against Ricardo Lamas.
The 26-year-old Barão (31-1, 6-0 in the UFC) won twice in the UFC's now-defunct sister promotion the WEC, then three times in the UFC before beating Faber for the interim belt. He defended it twice, choking out Michael McDonald and knocking out Eddie Wineland. Barão stands at No. 9 in the SI.com pound-for-pound fighter rankings and No. 6 in the UFC's media-voted tally.
Faber (30-6, 6-2 UFC), No. 3 on the SI.com bantamweight list and the No. 1 contender in the UFC rankings, earned this title shot on the strength of one hell of a 2013. Following his loss to Barão -- his fifth straight defeat in a title fight -- he won four in a row, finishing Ivan Menjivar, Scott Jorgensen and Michael McDonald. He comes into this rematch with a lot of momentum.
In addition to the pay-per-view telecast of the five-fight main card, four prelims will be shown on Fox Sports 1 (8 p.m. ET) and the card's other three bouts will stream on the UFC Fight Pass digital subscription service (6:30).
The ghost of Dominick Cruz has hovered over Barão and Faber both times they've been matched up.
Urijah was coaching against "The Dominator" on The Ultimate Fighter in early 2012 and preparing to challenge for Cruz's belt that summer when Dominick blew out his knee in training. The UFC, knowing Cruz would be out for a while, opted to keep Faber on its July card and match him with Barão for an interim belt.
This rematch also was originally to be a Cruz fight. Dominick was scheduled to return from a 28-month absence -- his knee required a second surgery -- by facing Barão in a kinda, sorta champion vs. "champion" fight. Truth is, Renan had actually earned more of a right to call himself a champ than your typical interim belt holder, having defended twice. But no matter. That promotional theme went up in smoke when Cruz got hurt again -- his groin this time -- and Barão was handed the real belt without even having to fight for it.
So Renan will walk into the octagon as bantamweight champion on Saturday night. But he'll have a fight on his hands if he wants to walk out with the strap.
Yeah, Barão pretty much dominated his first meeting with Faber, but Urijah has been on a tear since then. He's 34 years old, and the prevailing feeling is that it's now or never for "The California Kid."
9/21/13 Eddie Wineland W TKO 2
2/16/13 Michael McDonald W Sub 4
7/21/12 Urijah Faber W UD 5
2/4/12 Scott Jorgensen W UD 3
11/5/11 Brad Pickett W Sub 1
12/14/13 Michael McDonald W Sub 2
8/17/13 Iuri Alcantara W UD 3
4/13/13 Scott Jorgensen W Sub 4
2/2/13 Ivan Menjivar W Sub 1
7/21/12 Renan Barão L UD 5
Tale of the tape
Barão vs. Faber
Feb. 27, 1987 BIRTH DATE May 14, 1979
Natal, Brazil BIRTHPLACE Isla Vista, Calif.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil RESIDENCE Sacramento, Calif.
31-1 RECORD 30-6
135* WEIGHT 135*
5'7" HEIGHT 5'6"
70" REACH 69"
* Official weights announced at the weigh-in (Friday, 4 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1)
3,215: Days it will have been on fight night since Barão last lost a fight. That was in his pro debut in April 2005. Since then, he's unbeaten in 31 bouts.
95.2: Percentage of opponents' takedown attempts that Barão has fended off, fourth best in UFC/WEC bantamweight history. (All statistics from Fight Metric.)
46.7: Percentage of Faber's strikes that find their target, third best in UFC/WEC history.
Evolution is a theory; It's Barão's theory, actually. It applies to the difference between the Faber he defeated 18 months ago and the Faber he will face on Saturday night.
How has Urijah evolved as a fighter? For one thing, he's getting better, or clearer, or simply different coaching, as Duane Ludwig has Team Alpha Male on a tear ever since taking over as head coach a little over a year ago. With Faber, he's tightened up his striking game, which enables him to better utilize his stout wrestling.
Along with technique, Faber also has had an attitude adjustment. Mid-2012 was a bad time for him, between professional disappointment (the Cruz fight was to be a pay-per-view cash cow for him) and personal dismay (his sister was in a serious car crash). He says now that he wasn't really into that July 2012 meeting with Barão, which is an odd thing for a fighter to say. But he quickly follows that by talking about how excited he is for this one.
He'd better be. And he'd better be prepared -- as prepared as one can be for a fight taken on three weeks' notice. Against Barão, he's going to have to figure out a way to get inside the defense. Takedowns. Clinch work. Whatever it takes. Just don't stand on the outside and get picked apart.
Barão is the favorite at all sports books checked, with his money line ranging from -264 (bet $100 to win $37.88) to -357 (bet $100 to win $28.01). The lines on Faber range from +210 (bet $100 to win $210) to +239 (bet $100 to win $239).
Faber is 34 but doesn't look it -- except where his experience shows. His whirlwind domination of Michael McDonald last month was an eye-opener, showing that "The California Kid" is not fading. He should pose more of a challenge for Barão than he did in their first meeting, but let's not forget that Renan continues to get better, too. How could he not, training every day with José Aldo? Faber has a shot if he can keep the pressure on, avoid big body kicks like the one that broke his rib in the first fight, and take the fight to the canvas. But I just don't see him sustaining an attack. I have to go with the Brazilian here, though I've been going back and forth on whether he can finish Faber this time. He can, but I'm thinking he won't. Barão by decision.
"I was lackluster. I lost a decision and broke my rib. And got paid a fraction of what I was going to get paid for the original fight. I just wasn't excited about that Barão fight at all. Well, I'm excited about this fight. That's the big difference."
-- Urijah Faber, speaking to SI.com a day after being given the rematch with Barão
"I believe that choosing Faber to fight me was a fair [decision]. He's one of the best in my division and has evolved a lot since our last fight. He's going to do his best on fight night. So will I."
-- Renan Barão, talking to MMA Fighting about the rematch
Join the conversation about Barão vs. Faber on Twitter. Track the hashtags #BaraoFaber and #UFC169 to see who's tweeting what about Saturday's fight.
@RenanBaraoUFC (Renan Barão, champion)
@dedepederneiras (Andre Pederneiras, Barão's coach)
@urijahfaber (Urijah Faber, challenger)
@TeamAlphaMale (Team Alpha Male, Faber's team)
@ufc (Ultimate Fighting Championship)
@danawhite (UFC president Dana White)
@jeffwagenheim (SI.com's Jeff Wagenheim)
@lorettahuntmma (SI.com's Loretta Hunt)
@MelissaSeguraSI (SI.com's Melissa Segura)
@chuckmindenhall (Chuck Mindenhall, MMAfighting.com writer)
@arielhelwani (Ariel Helwani, Fox Sports/MMAfighting.com interviewer)
@LukeThomasMMA (Luke Thomas, MMAfighting.com writer)
@MikeChiappetta (Mike Chiappetta, FoxSports.com MMA writer)
@benfowlkesMMA (Ben Fowlkes, USA Today/MMAjunkie.com writer)
@kevini (Kevin Iole, Yahoo! Sports MMA/boxing writer)
@bokamotoESPN (Brett Okamoto, ESPN.com MMA writer)
@davedoylemma (Dave Doyle, MMAfighting.com writer)
@MMAjunkieJohn (John Morgan, USAToday/MMAjunkie.com writer)
· José Aldo vs. Ricardo Lamas, for UFC featherweight championship (co-main event)
· Frank Mir vs. Alistair Overeem, heavyweight
· John Lineker vs. Ali Bagautinov, flyweight
· Jamie Varner vs. Abel Trujillo, lightweight
Preliminary card (8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1): John Makdessi vs. Alan Patrick, lightweight; Chris Cariaso vs. Danny Martinez, flyweight; Nick Catone vs. Tom Watson, middleweight; Al Iaquinta vs. Kevin Lee, lightweight.
Online prelims (6:30 p.m. ET, UFC Fight Pass): Clint Hester vs. Andy Enz, middleweight; Tony Martin vs. Rashid Magomedov, lightweight; Neil Magny vs. Gasan Umalatov, welterweight.
Mike Goldberg will handle blow-by-blow and while Joe Rogan will do analysis for the main-card telecast on pay-per-view as well as prelims on Fox Sports 1 and the UFC Fight Pass. An hour-long postfight show begins at 2 a.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.