UFC 149 Collision Course: Urijah Faber vs. Renan Barao
This Saturday night in Calgary, two of the world's top 135-pound fighters will step into the Octagon to decide who will become the interim champion of the UFC bantamweight division. Urijah Faber will have the opportunity to finally get his hands on UFC gold while Barao will attempt to elevate his rising-star status to phenom levels.
Faber, a long-reigning former champion, has built a storied career. For years he was the face of the lighter weight classes and has scored impressive victories over some of the sport's best. After several failed attempts, the only piece of the puzzle eluding him is a UFC championship. Should he earn the victory at the main event at UFC 149, Faber will add another block to an already solid legacy.
Barao, on the other hand, is in a different position. While little is known about him outside of the cage, the things he's been able to accomplish inside have been impressive. The Brazilian has amassed an impressive win streak as he's built momentum and mystique while ascending the divisional rankings. A win over Faber would be a launch pad for his career.
Both men have traveled different paths to get to Calgary. Let's take a look at how they got there:
In the days before Zuffa merged the WEC into the UFC, Faber was the king of the little blue cage. He became the organization's featherweight champion in his first outing and went on to successfully defend the belt on six occasions.
A key factor to Faber's success has always been work ethic. In 2006 alone he competed six times, scoring victories in every outing—including a high-profile win over Bibiano Fernandes. That type of output, mixed with an unwavering drive, put him on the fast track to success in mixed martial arts.
High-level wrestling made him a standout, but as his skill set evolved, Faber became dominant. He steamrolled the competition at 145 pounds until Mike Brown ended his 13-fight win streak at WEC 36. Faber would come up short in his next two attempts to reclaim the belt he held for so long as Brown defeated him again in the rematch and pound-for-pound great Jose Aldo bested him in a lopsided decision.
Following the loss to Aldo, Faber made the cut down to the bantamweight division, where he looked extremely impressive in his first two outings against Takeya Mizugaki and former champion Eddie Wineland. The victories earned him the opportunity to fight for the 135-pound title against champion Dominick Cruz. Faber is the only man to hold a win over Cruz, and their meeting at UFC 132 was a five-round battle.
When the judges' scorecards were read, Cruz walked away with the unanimous decision victory and Faber found himself on the verge of being reshuffled in the divisional deck. But after a strong showing and a quick finish against former champion Brian Bowles in his next outing, he once again put his bid in for a title shot.
The UFC granted Faber his wish, and the two rivals were selected as opposing coaches on The Ultimate Fighter Live with their trilogy bout slated as the co-main event of UFC 148. Unfortunately, Cruz suffered an ACL injury toward the end of the tournament and the organization tapped Barao to take his place.
Due to the length of time the champion will be sidelined the UFC instituted an interim title, which will be awarded to the winner of the bout at UFC 149.
After losing the first fight of his professional career, Barao turned a corner and hasn't looked back. The Nova Uniao product has notched 28 consecutive victories, making him the proud owner of one of the longest win streaks in the sport.
Much like Faber, Barao has remained extremely active throughout his career. Over an 11-month stretch from March 2008 to April 2009, he earned eight victories with five of them coming by way of finish. Barao built his name fighting in Brazil, but eventually the buzz grew big enough for him to earn an invite to compete in the WEC.
In Barao's first two outings with the organization he earned submission victories, which included a first-round stoppage over the scrappy Chris Cariaso. When Zuffa announced the WEC would be merging into the UFC, Barao's contract was absorbed and he was brought over to the Octagon.
His UFC debut against Cole Escovedo ended in a decision, but Barao quickly returned to his dominant ways in his next bout against Brad Pickett. In a rapid-fire affair that earned "Fight of the Night" honors, Barao submitted Pickett late in the opening round. The performance earned him rave reviews, but it was his next fight which would put him on the radar for title contention.
At UFC 143 he faced former No. 1 contender Scott Jorgensen. A scrappy wrestler with knockout power, Jorgensen was figured to be the toughest test thus far in the Brazilian's career. But by utilizing his unique blend of speed, power and accuracy, Barao battered Jorgensen from pillar to post en route to earning a lopsided unanimous decision victory.
Following the bout, Barao moved into the upper tier of the UFC bantamweight division. With champion Cruz already tied up in a third fight with Faber, the UFC scheduled Barao's next bout to come against veteran Ivan Menjivar at UFC 148. A pair of injuries would alter that course as Cruz's injury opened the window for Barao to step into the fight with Faber.
Next would come the injury to his friend and teammate Jose Aldo, who was set to defend his featherweight title against Erik Koch at UFC 149. With the bout scrapped, the organization pushed Faber vs. Barao back to July 21, where the two men will square off for the interim title in Calgary.
Both men need this fight for different reasons.
This could be the final title opportunity of Faber's career, and failure to complete his goal would serve to haunt such a self-driven and determined man to no end. He wants to be a UFC champion more than anything, and if he misses the mark against Barao, it would become a dream unrealized. But losing isn't an option and Faber intends on proving he has what it takes to figure out the puzzle of Renan Barao.
While his opponent is in the later stages of his career, Barao's is just now taking flight. A win over Faber will greatly accelerate that process and at just 25 years old, his physical prime is yet to come.
This is undoubtedly the biggest fight of his young career, and a victory over a highly decorated fighter such as Faber would prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the hype surrounding him is legit. It is a tremendous opportunity for Barao, and one he intends to capitalize on.
On Saturday night, two great fighters will step into the Octagon. One is looking to define a legacy while the other is preparing to begin his.
Two fighters who have traveled different routes to get to the top of the sport and their paths collide this weekend at UFC 149.
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