It isn’t the fight we were promised, nor is it the fight that many of us had hoped to see at UFC 149 in Calgary.
Still, there is an argument to be made that Urijah Faber vs. Renan Barão is a more appealing stylistic match-up on paper. With that in mind, let’s break down some key areas of next Saturday’s main event.
A cursory glance at FightMetric’s statistics for each combatant suggests that this is, at least stylistically, a nightmare match-up for “The California Kid.”
Faber has only recently become what one might describe as a “proficient striker,” with much of his success being owed to his formidable wrestling base.
Rarely is Faber at a disadvantage when it comes to assessing who will be able to dictate the terms of the fight, but this may be one of those few occasions.
Barão’s career statistics are nothing short of extraordinary, in many ways mirroring those of his Nova União teammate José Aldo. Indeed, they each shake off over 90 percent of takedown attempts against them, while landing over 60 percent of their own attempts—an incredible 78 percent success rate in Barão’s case.
Nova União appears to cultivate what one might call an “evolved sprawl-and-brawl” style of fighting, which is in many ways an extension of the classic Chuck Liddell approach—with the notable addition of a world-class submission game. This poses a problem for Faber, who shares much in common with Barão’s most recent victim, Scott Jorgensen.
In the aforementioned fight, the former Pac 10 wrestling champion tried and failed to take down the Brazilian on numerous occasions, before pulling guard in a manner that would have had Eddie Bravo grinning from ear to ear.
Consider that point for a moment. A high-level wrestler, unable to take down his opponent, was so reticent to get involved in striking exchanges that he voluntarily put himself on his back. One is normally more likely to see a turtle flip itself over onto its shell.
Suffice to say, that is not Urijah’s game, and he will need to find another method of solving this conundrum.
What can Faber do to overcome this stylistic dilemma? At the risk of parroting Joe Rogan, he will need to incorporate kicks into his game, and he will need to do it often.
Barão has a more diverse striking game than “The California Kid” and will comfortably manage the distance against a boxing-centred approach.
The use of kicks will not only allow Faber to better control distance, it will also take a little spring out of the step of the perpetually animated Brazilian—invaluable in a five-round fight.
While Faber may be forced to stand with Barão early on, he is dogged enough to get the fight to where he wants it, assuming he is willing to chip away at the Brazilian’s stamina reserves.
On the flip side, what does Barão need to do in order to come away with the interim bantamweight title? In short, he need only employ his usual game.
He has the benefit of possessing the style advantage in this match-up, and he needn’t venture out of his comfort zone. If he can avoid being taken down, as he has for most of his career, his superior striking should see him coast to a decision.
Barão must make sure that he controls the distance and avoid being pushed up against the cage. That is Faber’s world and the Brazilian’s offensive game will be smothered if he allows this to happen.
“The California Kid” is arguably the naturally bigger man, having come down from featherweight. Therefore, Barão needs to rely on his superior technique and footwork to keep Faber out of range.
Although Faber has doubtless improved his skill-set over the last couple of years, one wonders whether this fight will look like a re-run of his fight with José Aldo from 2010.
In order to avoid a similar fate, he will need to have added a few more wrinkles to his game. And even then, that may not be enough to halt what appears to be Renan Barão’s inevitable journey to the 135-pound title.