With UFC president Dana White recently revealing that interim bantamweight champ Renan Barao will likely have to defend his title while waiting for Dominick Cruz to return from a torn ACL, speculation has arisen over who may challenge the Brazillian powerhouse.
While no matchup has been announced yet, White all but confirmed that 21-year-old Michael McDonald will be the man for the job during the UFC's trip to Montreal earlier this month.
Fans should be excited for this possible interim title bout because a battle between these two bantamweight contenders will definitely be an action-packed, firework-filled affair.
Here's how I see Barao and McDonald matching up against each other in a head-to-toe breakdown.
Barao and McDonald may be two of the scariest strikers in any MMA bantamweight division.
The 25-year-old Brazilian is a technically vicious striker, able to chop down opponents with his sound Muay Thai leg kicks, stemming from his training with the illustrious Team Nova Uniao. Barao has quick strikes and is able to pick his opponents apart standing up.
"Mayday" is just as vicious, if not more so, than Barao. While the Brazilian has crisper technique, McDonald definitely has more power with nine of his 15 victories coming by way of knockout.
When it comes to striking, this will really be a battle between McDonald's explosive power and Barao's technical precision.
Since neither fighter hails from a traditional wrestling background, it's hard to compare the two 135ers in this category.
Both men are extremely well-rounded and have performed well against some of the division's top grapplers.
Barao was able to win the interim title by neutralizing former WEC champ Urijah Faber's wrestling, utilizing leg kicks and solid takedown defense to keep the fight standing.
Similarly, McDonald is coming off a big win over submission ace Miguel Torres. "Mayday" battered the former WEC titleholder with punches every time Torres tried to come inside and close the distance, eventually knocking him out in the first round.
When it comes to offensive wrestling, Barao has a slight edge due to his penchant for fighting on the ground. However, overall, both guys are pretty even when it comes to the wrestling/grappling department.
While both men are serious threats on the ground, it's not surprising that the Brazilian with a black belt in jiu-jitsu is my pick for this category.
McDonald is a solid BJJ brown belt with four career tapout victories, but his submission skills aren't near the levels of Barao.
As a Nova Uniao black belt, Barao has amassed 13 submission wins out of 29 career victories, most recently submitting Brad Pickett at UFC 138 via a rear-naked choke. The fight coincidentally also took home Fight of the Night honors.
While I don't expect this fight to go to the ground unless McDonald starts pressuring Barao standing up, the Brazilian will definitely have an edge when it comes to submissions.
Both guys are extremely well-conditioned athletes and should have no problem going the distance should their possible future bout last that long.
Barao is no stranger to championship rounds and looked great in his five-round interim title bout against Faber earlier this year. The Brazilian has actually gone to a decision significantly more times than McDonald, who has only left the first round four times in his entire career.
This fact makes me believe that Barao may have a slight edge when it comes to cardio.
In terms of strength, however, I will have to go with McDonald. His heavy hands have produced twice as many KOs as his potential opponent.
That doesn't mean that Barao isn't as strong as McDonald, but that the American's strikes are slightly more powerful.
Overall, however, these guys are pretty evenly matched here.
It's insane to think that, at 25, Barao has amassed a 30-fight unbeaten streak and captured an interim UFC belt at an age when most young adults are still getting adjusted to life.
The Brazilian has faced some of the sport's best 135ers, including Scott Jorgensen, Pickett and Faber, and will have a distinct edge in the experience category.
Although McDonald is just four years Barao's junior and owns big wins over top bantamweights such as Cole Escovedo and Torres, he has been in half as many fights as the interim champ and only recently turned 21.
It's pretty clear who has the edge here.
In a match against McDonald, Barao's best bet is to stick to a technical and high-paced game plan.
McDonald thrives when opponents get flat-footed on him, so Barao must stay light on his feet, utilize his quick footwork and employ a technically-sound counter-striking attack. Rapid movement in and out will help to keep Barao away from McDonald's power inside, but it will also make it difficult for the Brazilian to score a takedown unless they are against the cage.
If Barao can tire "Mayday" out by dragging him into the later rounds, and by battering him with leg kicks, he should be able to take this fight.
While there's no question that McDonald has been on an impressive run to kick off his professional MMA career, a champ like Barao can end a streak like that quickly.
"Mayday" needs to keep the pressure on from the opening bell. He cannot let Barao find his distance and get comfortable on the outside.
McDonald needs to get his hands on the Brazilian and batter him with heavy punches from inside the pocket. If he gets trapped in Barao's game and let's him set up his shots from the outside, it will be a long night for McDonald.
Honestly, I cannot think of a better matchup at 135 for the UFC.
Both guys are well-rounded, surging contenders who are extremely skilled in every aspect of the sport. Combined with their high-energy styles and penchants for finishing fights, Barao vs. McDonald may be the fight to look out for in 2013.
If this fight comes to fruition, expect fireworks from both sides. Barao will be a bit more technical when it comes to striking, while McDonald will look to blast his way through to an eighth straight win.
In the end, however, I see Barao's crisper technique and ability to wear down his opponents making the difference in this bout.
Prediction: Barao via unanimous decision.