Dominick Cruz’s ACL injury isn’t getting better anytime soon and that seems to be just fine with Renan Barao who is now set to face Urijah Faber at UFC 149 for the UFC’s Interim Bantamweight Title.
There has been much speculation regarding just exactly how Cruz received his injury as Faber has suggested that Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Champion Rhonda Rousey caused it. Cruz quickly responded by going on MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani and stated that Rousey was only brought in to help coach Cruz’s TUF team and in fact was not even a training partner for his camp. The truth is following a morning session on TUF Cruz went to spar kickboxing and takedowns and another one of his training partners went for a trip takedown when Cruz’s knee buckled and later on popped resulting in his camp to call for an MRI.
UFC 149’s main event is sure to get the crowd in Calgary juiced up with the lightning fast strikes and jiu-jitsu of Barao while Faber brings main event experience and wrestling to the table. Renan Barao has clearly earned his number one contender spot by out-striking then submitting Brad “One-punch” Pickett and dismantling another top contender Scott Jorgensen. Barao is now 3-0 in the UFC (28-1) and the hype is surely justified however Barao has yet to see the championship rounds in his MMA career while Faber gone the distance 4 times. Faber will most likely avoid any striking exchanges as none of them went well when Faber fought Barao’s training partner, Jose Aldo, instead he should try to grind out a victory with heavy cage control mixed in with the odd takedown. Expect to see Barao try to avoid this and punish Faber with a variety of kicks and punches while he might also look to prolong the beating and gain some experience in the championship rounds.
No matter the outcome of the Interim Bantamweight Championship fight I expect both Faber and Barao to be more than willing, barring injury, to defend their Interim belt which represents the divisions’ true number one contender. Cruz stated in early May that he wanted to get back to training in 4 to 6 months but an ACL tear is never a clear cut injury and the Champion may not even be able to fight until 2013. With the Champ sidelined it would make sense to match up the Bantamweights top contenders and determine who exactly the best challenger for Dominick Cruz’s belt is. Should either Faber or Barao choose to sit out and wait for Cruz, whether that’s even an option, it would surely throw a wrench in the Bantamweight division for the remainder of 2012.
The UFC’s Bantamweight Division is definitely not suffering from an overflow of top contenders but it does have its share of talent. The man seen on most top 10 lists for the Bantamweight Division following Cruz, Faber and Barao is Michael McDonald and in my opinion he deserves to fight the winner of Faber vs. Barao. The 21 year old is 4-0 in the UFC (15-1) and has also avenged his only career loss when he traded KO’s with former UFC Bantamweight Cole Escovedo. McDonald is on an 8 fight win-streak and after a first round KO stoppage of fellow top contender Miguel Torres I feel he has made it an easy decision for UFC matchmaker Joe Silva when matching up the next Interim Bantamweight title fight.
McDonald is not the only worthy contender as Eddie Wineland is flying high right now after his KO of Scott Jorgensen in June. Wineland is 1-2 in the UFC however so he made need to rack up another win before getting his shot. Mike “The Hulk” Easton’s win over Ivan Menjivar at UFC 148 may have pushed him into the title contention conversation. Brad Pickett again showed his arsenal of strikes submissions in his last fight but the submission loss to Barao will result in Pickett having to fight another top contender or two before a title shot. Pickett will faceoff with Yves Jabouin at UFC on Fuel TV 5 in a fight that could align the winner with Easton in a title eliminator bout.
The Bantamweight Division is sure to see some questions answered in the upcoming months when several top contenders get their chance to earn a shot at the Interim title. The winner of Faber vs. Barao will look to make sure that any contender gets sent back down the rankings so they can earn the true UFC Bantamweight Championship when Dominick Cruz injury fully heals.