Renan Barao seemed content to wait for Dominick Cruz's return from injury following his win over Urijah Faber in a fight for the interim bantamweight championship. However, he is now set to defend his belt against another rising bantamweight talent in Michael McDonald.
McDonald has been out of action for more than nine months, but he's coming off the biggest win of his career, a knockout of former WEC champion Miguel Torres. Though he doesn't have the same resume as Barao, the 22-year-old McDonald is considered one of the brightest young fighters in the 135-pound class and was inevitably going to be competing for a title.
While Cruz will have something to say about it once he finally recovers from his knee problem, this fight between Barao and McDonald could determine the future king of the bantamweight class.
As this clash between 135-pound phenoms approaches, let's take a look at which areas each fighter holds his most significant advantages in.
Renan Barao was able to methodically beat Scott Jorgensen and Urijah Faber while standing, but it's not like he lit the world on fire with his striking. Though he was effective enough to beat those former 135-pound title challengers, Barao has only landed 35 percent of his strikes thrown (via FightMetric.com).
Michael McDonald's numbers won't blow you away either. The up-and-comer lands fewer than half of his strikes attempted as well and gets hit far more frequently than Barao, defending only 53 percent of strikes thrown at him (via FightMetric.com).
Though neither fighter is the most accurate striker in the bantamweight division, they get the job done with their volume of strikes. As far as technique goes, neither fighter should run away with this when standing.
Not to say that neither of these fighters has the ability to finish an opponent with their ground-and-pound, but both bantamweights are much more likely to work toward submissions when on the canvas than to throw down strikes.
With both fighters being such solid grapplers, its unlikely that either bantamweight would make it easy for their opponent to finish this bout with strikes from the top position anyway.
While Barao has not showed off his knockout power against elite competition, McDonald is coming off back-to-back knockout wins.
Although Barao has never been finished, he was hit 73 times in a three-round fight with Jorgensen. If McDonald touches his chin that frequently, Barao is bound to find himself rocked on at least one occasion.
Overall Striking Edge: McDonald
Much like his Nova Uniao training partner Jose Aldo, Renan Barao is nearly impossible to take down. The Brazilian has defended 95 percent of the takedown attempts he's faced, and that includes stuffing a combined 13 shots against solid bantamweight wrestlers Urijah Faber and Scott Jorgensen.
While McDonald's offensive wrestling has been solid, as he's been successful on 86 percent of his takedown attempts, the challenger does leave some holes in his takedown defense. Though not known for his wrestling, Chris Cariaso was able to ground McDonald, so Barao should certainly be able to score a takedown or two as well.
While Barao and McDonald have solid jiu-jitsu, neither grappler is smothering from the top position.
Both bantamweights will take risks, and since both are also quick and have plenty of spring, it's unlikely that either man will be able to hold their opponent down for a significant period of time.
That doesn't mean grappling won't be a factor in determining the outcome of this matchup, though.
McDonald has never been submitted, but he's still looking for his first UFC submission victory. The chances of him getting it against a jiu-jitsu black belt like Barao are slim.
It won't be easy to submit McDonald either, but Barao has a much better chance of ending this fight on the ground, as he has already forced Brad Pickett to tap since joining the UFC's 135-pound roster.
Overall Grappling Edge: Barao
Both Renan Barao and Michael McDonald have competed inside the Octagon on four occasions.
However, Barao has competed in 15 more MMA bouts than McDonald and has experience fighting with a UFC championship on the line.
McDonald's fight with Miguel Torres was an important one for him, but the pressure he faced in that fight won't compare to the nerves he has to deal with heading into a contest for UFC gold.
Barao and McDonald are young and in the prime of their careers. Both bantamweights are quick and relatively powerful for competitors in their division.
Neither fighter is going to out-quick or out-muscle the other in this matchup. The outcome of this fight will be much more dependent on technique and game-planning.
Barao has had experience competing against elite competition for five rounds, while McDonald has only gone three rounds with UFC-level opposition on a pair of occasions.
It's doubtful either fighter is going to gas badly, but the fact that McDonald has not competed for nine months should be of concern and could have an impact.
Overall Intangibles Edge: Barao
When standing, Renan Barao and Michael McDonald should be very evenly matched, though Barao may be able to pull away in the later rounds should the rust and nerves get to McDonald.
For the most part, though, these bantamweights will probably go tit-for-tat in the striking department.
Barao should be able to gain an advantage over McDonald in the wrestling department, though. The Brazilian should be able to stuff most, or all, of McDonald's takedown attempts, and he'll be able to score a takedown or two of his own to gain slight edges on the scorecards to win rounds.
McDonald's power makes him a threat to finish this fight at any time, but Barao should be elusive enough to avoid being put away by a flash knockout.
Barao defeats McDonald by unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 49-46).