With Dominick Cruz on the shelf for at least a good while longer, Renan Barao and Michael McDonald squared off in an interim bantamweight title fight that can set the tone of the division for a long while.
Both Barao and McDonald entered the fight undefeated in the WEC and UFC. Both have left very little doubt as to who was the winner in any given bout during their time with Zuffa.
When they finally met in the cage, things started off evenly, but the reigning champ picked up more and more steam as the fight went on until forcing McDonald to the ground and sinking in a sneaky head-and-arm choke.
It was a great fight that showed us a lot from both fighters. So what did we learn?
Michael McDonald Is Very Good
When I was catching up on fights from either party before this event, I basically came to the conclusion that Renan Barao was a killing machine and Michael McDonald was going to be his first victim as interim champion with very little effort. McDonald proved me wrong.
Even though he ended up getting choked out, he was masterful on the ground, slipping away from Barao again and again. He looked every part Barao's equal but seemed just a little bit too tentative as the fight went on.
At just 22 years old, though, McDonald may not have even hit his peak yet. We could very easily see him fighting for another 10 years, meaning he could be in the title picture of the division for the indefinite future.
Renan Barao is Even Better
Michael McDonald is very good, and Renan Barao is even better. He showed some very good hands and kicks, and we already know that he's a master in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Renan Barao is as well-rounded as anybody and easily ranks among the top 10 pound-for-pound fighters in MMA. On top of all that, as with McDonald, we could see him getting better over the next few years.
Dominick Cruz Should Still Be Favored for Unification Bout
For those that don't know, Dominick Cruz is currently shelved with a lingering knee injury. He hasn't fought since October 2011.
While Renan Barao is a very, very good fighter, I definitely feel like Cruz has all the tools to take the win when they fight. That, of course, assumes that he comes back at full strength following such a long layover.
Cruz still has, perhaps, the best wrestling in the UFC under 155 lbs, and while Barao is quick and can mix his hands, kicks and takedowns well, I definitely think Cruz can dictate the pace and location of the fight with ease.
Raphael Assuncao Is Last Man Standing for Title Shot
So let's say Cruz can't come back for a bit longer. He is currently projected to come back late 2013, but who knows if that will pan out?
Basically, the only guy with a winning streak longer than two is Raphael Assuncao, who is 3-0 at bantamweight, with wins over Johnny Eduardo, Issei Tamura and Mike Easton. Not especially stiff competition, but that's where we are right now. The bantamweight division is very shallow on contenders, and it is starting to really show.
Part of it is how the UFC has let free agents slip through its fingers (the organization was outbid for both Tyson Nam and Bibiano Fernandes). Part of it is the lack of support for the division from The Ultimate Fighter.
Either way, Assuncao is basically the only guy with any level of name value, and any number of wins clumped together, to get the nod if Cruz faces another setback. Here's hoping it doesn't happen, because the division really needs more time for things to shake out.