In July 2012, Urijah Faber and Renan Barao met in the rare, bizarre instance where both men were challengers for a title.
No, it wasn't some three-way wrestling match with Vince McMahon cackling sadistically from ringside, but rather a fight for the interim bantamweight title. Rightful champion Dominick Cruz was sidelined and the UFC needed someone to prop up the relatively unproppable 135-pound class in his stead, so Faber and Barao were booked for that right.
It was a meeting between marketability and talent, one where the UFC was putting former WEC poster boy and coach of The Ultimate Fighter Faber in there with an up-and-coming Brazilian wunderkind in hopes of creating the best possible situation out of losing Cruz.
Barao battered Faber in the cage, taking the interim belt and leaving the Californian in limbo. The UFC lost out on the better personality of the two, but seemingly made up for it by having the more dynamic man win. Faber, no slouch in combat in his own right, was the easier sell, but Barao wasn't a bad second choice.
Guys like Anderson Silva and Jose Aldo had shown it: If you smash people with particular celebration, no one seems to care if you have to say how you did it in Portuguese.
Except now, some two years later and with Barao having assumed the role of official champion while Cruz is still hurt, that hasn't really happened. Something about him hasn't resonated, despite a nine-year unbeaten run and five finishes in eight Zuffa fights.
In the meantime, Faber was anything but derailed by his loss to Barao. He proceeded to absolutely trounce everyone in his path since that fateful night in Calgary, scoring three submissions in his four wins along the way.
So they're going to do it again on Super Saturday, swinging for the fences in the swamps of Jersey.
And it's going to look very much like the first meeting did.
For all the pomp and circumstance that Faber brings to the Octagon as the only true superstar south of 155 pounds on the UFC roster, and for all the improvement he's improbably shown at 34 years old, he isn't going to outdo Barao on a skill-for-skill basis.
Both guys are very talented in their own way and actually might be equals in terms of skill. The issue is that their skills are very different, and they mesh in a way that will never give Faber an advantage.
Faber relies on big power shots landing, which allow for a blitz that might score a TKO or force his opponent to give up an unfavorable position while hurt. Barao has better footwork, more weapons on the feet and a style of jiu-jitsu predicated almost completely on tireless aggression thanks to years at Nova Uniao.
He is, on paper, as bad a matchup as Faber could have.
The end result will be Barao proving that his previous win over Faber was no fluke. Everywhere Faber goes, Barao will have an answer, and while that may not lead to a stoppage of the remarkably durable California Kid, it will lead to another win.
While he was essentially handed the belt instead of being given the chance to take it from Cruz rightfully, this is the best Barao can do to cement his legitimacy as champion. Faber is the next-best guy at 135 pounds, and holding two wins over him will mean a lot for the Brazilian.
Expect a good tilt on the way to the champion retaining, but don't expect the result to be anything wildly different than their first meeting.
This is just one of those matchups.
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