Renan Barao deserves the chance to unify his interim-bantamweight title.
Since winning the interim strap against Urijah Faber at UFC 149, Barao has twice defended his honor, doing so in convincing fashion both times—once by submission and once by knockout.
Barao has done everything in his power to establish himself as the No. 1 bantamweight in the world, and yet...
Dominick Cruz looms, enjoying his status as 135-pound champion despite sitting out since October of 2011, when he defeated now-flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson at UFC Live 6 on Versus.
See how many things are wrong with that statement?
Cruz last defeated a natural flyweight (by decision) two years ago in a fight that was broadcast on a TV station that doesn't exist anymore.
In the event that Cruz cannot return to face the Brazilian sensation, Barao needs to move on with his life and stay active (as a champion should).
He would need to face the winner of UFC on Fox 9's matchup between Urijah Faber and Michael McDonald.
For the UFC and its fans, however, this is not ideal.
Barao has already defeated both of these fighters in dominant fashion, bringing little intrigue to a possible rematch.
As we know, however, anything can happen in a fight, and massive improvements can be made in short periods of time, especially with young fighters like McDonald (just look at Alexander Gustafsson).
Although Faber is the more marketable of the two options, McDonald presents more challenges for Barao, a point demonstrated in their first encounter, where "Mayday" was able to wobble Barao with strikes.
After a nifty submission victory over Brad Pickett at UFC Fight Night 26, McDonald's game looks as well-rounded and sharp as ever, and he possesses the tools to end Barao's reign at the top of the division.
Beyond Faber and McDonald (and Cruz), the bantamweight division houses no legitimate contenders for Barao's strap right now.
Guys like TJ Dillashaw and Raphael Assuncao may find themselves in contention in due time, but they simply do not possess the resume to make a case for the big show right now.
If Cruz cannot fight, somebody needs to step in quickly, and either Faber or McDonald fits the job description better than the rest of the division.
Barring an instance where Demetrious Johnson moves up or a top featherweight moves down, Barao's next opponent should be one of these bantamweight standouts.