Turns out, next year’s bantamweight title unification bout between Renan Barao and Dominick Cruz is bigger than tradition.
The 135-pound championship fight will serve as the main even for UFC 169 on Feb. 1 in Newark, N.J., taking precedence over Jose Aldo’s featherweight title defense against Ricardo Lamas, according to a report Tuesday by MMA Junkie.com.
It is typical UFC policy on cards featuring multiple championship bouts that the heavier fighters are given top billing. By allowing Barao-Cruz to trump Aldo and Lamas’ 145-pound clash, the promotion effectively sends the message that this bantamweight title tiff will be something special.
The fight marks champion Cruz’s return to the Octagon after two years, four months away rehabbing injuries. In his absence, the talented 26-year-old Barao took control of the division, defeating Urijah Faber to claim the interim title at UFC 149 last July before skating through back-to-back title defenses.
Barao (31-1-1) opened as the betting favorite when the bout was announced last month, though Cruz (19-1) has never lost in the 135-pound division. Since dropping from featherweight in 2008, he’s gone 9-0, winning the WEC championship and then becoming the first-ever UFC 135-pound titlist when he defeated Scott Jorgensen in Dec. 2010.
The main impediment to Cruz’s success has been an inability to stay healthy, as he’s missed extended periods while nursing a series of knee injuries. His most recent defense of the bantamweight crown came in Oct. 2011, when he defeated current UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson via unanimous decision.
At featherweight, Aldo (23-1) will be vying for the fifth consecutive defense of his UFC championship and his seventh straight defense overall, after winning the WEC title in Nov. 2009. The 145-pound champion and consensus top-five pound-for-pound fighter has won 16 fights in a row dating back to 2005.
Lamas (13-2) comes in riding a four-fight win streak in the UFC.
UFC 169 will be the company’s annual Super Bowl weekend show, typically regarded as one of the biggest MMA events of the year.