Fans can lull themselves to sleep with talk of controversy or proverbial screwjobs, but at the end of the day, Renan Barao is simply a better fighter than Urijah Faber.
The bantamweight champ defeated Faber for a second time in the main event of UFC 169 on Saturday night. However, this time the bout ended with a questionable TKO stoppage instead of a lopsided unanimous decision.
All of the talk leading up to the rematch dwelled on Faber’s monumental improvements in striking and the possibility of him finally closing the gap with Barao. But when the two actually met in the middle of the cage, the bout was nothing more than a continuation of the first fight.
Barao once again proved to be the more fluid and dynamic striker, dropping Faber early in the first round with a straight right hand. “The California Kid” fought tooth and nail to get back to his feet, but he was never able to stave off Barao’s unrelenting attack. Another right hand from the Brazilian sent Faber crashing back down to the mat once more.
Like a bloodhound, Barao pounced on Faber’s side and began unloading a series of hammerfists. Stuck in belly-down side control, Faber chose to hang out in the position and use his free hand to block Barao’s strikes. He even gave referee Herb Dean a thumb's up to let him know he was OK and still in the fight.
Unfortunately, the signal was in Dean’s blindspot, and the longtime MMA ref made the decision to step in and stop the fight at 3:42 in the first round.
“It’s very frustrating,” Faber told UFC commentator Joe Rogan after the fight. “I’m one of the most durable guys in the world. You get caught with punches. He told me to do something, so I gave him a thumbs up right before he stopped it. Herb is a great referee. I just wish I would have had more of a chance.”
In a sport enamored with controversy, fans have seemingly wiped the slate clean of Barao’s performance leading up to the finish. He dropped Faber twice and had him wobbled in three exchanges. It was yet another picture-perfect performance from one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
This isn’t to suggest that some degree of sympathy isn’t warranted for the premature stoppage. Faber was obviously conscious, and Dean had a clear visual of the strikes being blocked. Perhaps his decision was swayed by all of the wobbly exchanges.
Regardless, it’s pretty sad to hear boos echo throughout the arena when Barao’s name was called in the end, as if he was somehow gifted a victory. Faber didn’t show anything to suggest he was in that fight any more than the first bout.
The MMA world was infatuated with Faber’s 2013 run, with wins over Michael McDonald, Iuri Alcantara, Scott Jorgensen and Ivan Menjivar. Saturday night was just a hard dose of reality served to those eager to ride the coattails of hype.
Faber may be a much-improved fighter, but there is only one Renan Barao.