Most would say Barao is the favorite, propelled by his nine-year unbeaten streak and a prior win over Faber, but he's got his hands full with the Team Alpha Male product.
The same is true for Faber, who has his hands full with a Brazilian wrecking ball who hasn't been remotely pushed in the UFC and looks to defend the true bantamweight title for the first time.
For either man to be successful against the other, they must focus on key elements of engagement.
Looking at the challenger, it's pretty clear that he isn't going to outpoint Barao on the feet. The champion simply has too many ways to attack, too much skill and too much technical expertise. That doesn't mean that the road to victory is closed, however.
Faber is at his best when he's selective but highly committed to his striking game. He's just shifty enough to surprise opponents when he pursues with power punches, and if he blends those skills properly against Barao, he has a chance.
The key for "The California Kid" is to rely on his improved footwork to open angles and then blast through the openings he creates with one of his patented blitzes. Barao is undeniably good, but he's also hittable, and Faber is as good as anyone at finishing when he's got a guy on the run.
If he hurts Barao, he needs to pursue relentlessly for a TKO or try and impose a bad position on the champion and secure a submission. It's how Faber wins fights, and if he's to win this one, his avenue for success is no different.
Barao, looking for his first win as the proper bantamweight champion, has a path to victory similar to the path he took to a win over Faber at UFC 149. He needs to keep the fight upright and score from range, beat up the challenger and take home a decision.
The reality is that he isn't a finisher standing up, despite what promoters want people with disposable income for a pay-per-view to think. He knocked Eddie Wineland out spectacularly, but that was the first time he stopped someone with something other than a submission since 2009. In 31 career wins, less than a quarter have been by (T)KO.
With that in mind, and the fact that his threatening submission game may not be overly reliable against a grappler as talented as Faber, it's wise for the champion to fight for points and see where it goes. Fans probably don't want to hear that, but that makes it no less of a smart game plan.
With a more varied striking game, flashier combinations and something of a speed advantage, impressing the judges for 25 minutes is the easiest way for Barao to retain his title. It's possible, though unlikely, it could net him a finish if he catches Faber coming in for a flurry. But even if that never presents itself, he's likely to run away with a stand-up fight.
So it goes for the first official UFC bantamweight title defense not to be performed by Dominick Cruz. With the interim tag removed from his reign, Barao should look to ride his vaunted striking to a decision win. Faber should rely on his power and aggression to try and keep him from doing so inside the distance.
Both men have a clear path to victory, but only one will walk it. The world finds out which one on Super Saturday in Newark, N.J.
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