Following his loss to Renan Barao at UFC 149, Urijah Faber looked to be a long way away from getting another shot at UFC gold. However, 19 months later, "The California Kid" is already going to get another crack at the Brazilian, who is now the undisputed bantamweight champion.
Faber returned to the front of the line for a title shot by winning four straight fights, which all occurred during 2013. In those bouts, the Team Alpha Male leader submitted Ivan Menjivar, Scott Jorgensen and Michael McDonald to establish himself as the best available contender to replace an injured Dominick Cruz at UFC 169.
After beating Faber to become interim champion, Barao defended his belt against McDonald and Eddie Wineland. The Nova Uniao product was then booked to meet fellow champion Cruz, but "The Dominator" suffered another injury and was pulled from Saturday's fight card in Newark, N.J.
With this hugely important rematch and UFC 169 headliner approaching, here is a look at how Barao and Faber should match up against one another this time around.
In their first meeting, Barao and Faber stood for 25 minutes.
Barao benefitted from the stand-up contest, landing 85 significant strikes, 15 more than Faber was able to score with. The Brazilian's reach and combination helped him gain an edge over the former WEC champion in the striking department.
Throwing too many single strikes, Faber had trouble working inside against an opponent with three more inches of reach. When Faber rushed in, Barao was ready to meet him with flurries while expertly angling away from the American's linear attacks.
Since he last fought Barao, Faber has joined forces with new Team Alpha Male coach Duane Ludwig. As Reed Kuhn demonstrated on CagePotato.com, the UFC veteran has made a clear impact on the striking abilities of the fighters at the California-based camp.
Faber showed his progression by knocking down McDonald at UFC on Fox 9 before locking up a submission. An improved Faber could cause problems for Barao at UFC 169. The California Kid hit Barao with some lunging rights and long right uppercuts at UFC 149. If he follows up on those strikes this time around, Faber could make Saturday's main event very interesting.
While Faber may have made some adjustments, Barao has continued to improve as well. Still only 26 years old, the Brazilian is still making strides as a fighter, which is scary for Faber and the rest of the bantamweight division.
Barao landed a spinning heel kick on McDonald and finished Wineland with the same technique in his last outing. Don't be surprised to see the 135-pound titleholder unveil a new wrinkle in his striking game against Faber this weekend.
Since joining the UFC roster, Barao has not been taken down.
Faber tried to take Barao down six times at UFC 149, but he was repeatedly shut down. With nine takedowns in his past three fights, though, Faber isn't going to abandon his wrestling because he faced adversity last time around.
While there will be more talk about whether Faber can score takedowns at UFC 169, some attention should be paid to Barao's wrestling strategy.
In his first bout with Faber, Barao did not attempt a takedown. Considering Faber was taken down by Iuri Alcantara and Menjivar since he last fought Barao, the champion might be wise to mix things up more in the rematch.
Taking Faber down with regularity won't be easy, and Barao very well could allow his first takedown inside the Octagon this weekend, but it is not likely either man will dominate the fight with wrestling.
Barao and Faber are both extremely dangerous on the ground. The Brazilian has scored 14 submissions in his MMA career, while Faber has submitted 17 opponents.
With their outstanding offensive grappling skills come excellent defensive abilities.
Neither bantamweight has ever been submitted. So, as slick as both men are with their submissions, it is highly unlikely either will be forced to tap.
Considering his difficulty striking with Barao in their last clash, Faber may hope to work from the top position as much as possible on Saturday. However, he leaves opening for escapes with his aggressive ground-and-pound, and Barao is too skilled on the ground to not take advantage of those chances.
Having beaten Faber already, Barao has an important mental advantage over The California Kid before their UFC 169 fight even starts.
The first time around, Barao was inexperienced in big fights. However, three UFC title fights later, the Brazilian is now used to the spotlight. While he hasn't seen as many championship bouts as Faber, Barao is unlikely to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of this matchup.
Both fighters have gone five rounds without issue and have not been inactive for long, so conditioning should not be a factor.
There's a good chance this will be Faber's last shot at the bantamweight belt, especially if Barao hangs onto it for long, so the pressure is really on him.
Barao didn't blow Faber out of the water at UFC 149, but he did establish himself as the better fighter.
Being eight years younger than Faber, it is likely the Brazilian has also grown more since that last meeting. The California Kid may have improved as a striker under Ludwig, but he hasn't proved he's closed the gap between him and Barao in that area.
Faber is one of the best the 145-pound and 135-pound divisions have ever seen, so it's unfortunate he may never own UFC gold. However, there was a time when Faber showed Jens Pulver a new generation had arrived, and now it is Barao's turn to teach Faber the same lesson, albeit in more competitive fashion.
Barao defeats Faber by decision.
Statistics via FightMetric.com.