UFC 169 was full of thrilling fights, with 10 of the 12 matches ending in decisions. However, the main event, the 135-pound championship fight between Urijah Faber and Renan Barao, ended in controversial fashion when the referee stopped the fight in the first round in favor of Barao.
The loss is a tough setback for Faber, who received a lot of hype coming into the fight about his improvement under new coach Duane Ludwig. It seemed reasonable to expect the 34-year-old to avenge his 2012 loss to Barao.
However, there is only so much a new coach can do to alter a veteran's fighting habits, and the fight was an illustration of that. Faber moved well throughout, but never really threatened Barao in the fight's lone round.
The stoppage drew most of the attention after the fight, and referee Herb Dean's decision was borderline at best. Faber expressed justifiable frustration afterwards, per ESPN.com's Brett Okamoto:
Despite being dropped moments before, Faber was actually signaling a "thumbs up" as Dean moved in to stop the fight. The result is his sixth consecutive loss in a title fight.
"It's very frustrating," Faber said. "I'm one of the most durable guys in the world. You get caught with punches, man. He told me to do something, so I gave him a thumbs up. Herb is a great referee, but I wish I had more of a chance."
However, given that Faber was not particularly threatening throughout the round, and that he was on his back taking multiple shots, some believe the decision was defensible:
BTW, I had no prob w/ Faber stoppage. Barao dropped him, Faber fell on his belly flat & stayed turtled up. Took ~20 unanswered shots #ufc— MMA Supremacy (@MMASupremacy) February 2, 2014
Regardless, Faber is now undefeated in non-title bouts and winless when a belt is on the line. Even at the twilight of his career, he may get another shot, though after losing twice, it will not likely be against Barao.
Meanwhile, the reigning bantamweight champion is now on an eight-year undefeated streak, and has fully established himself as monster in the 135-pound division. As FoxSports.com's Damon Martin notes, it might be time for Barao to turn elsewhere to look for challenges:
Barao is the real deal, folks. He's been undefeated for eight years and hasn't lost in 33 fights. The only real mountain left for him to climb at bantamweight is to finally face former champion Dominick Cruz, but that almost seems unfair at this point following a two-plus year layoff for the former bantamweight king. If Jose Aldo bumps up to lightweight, Barao could consider a move to featherweight and challenge someone like Chad Mendes to crown a new champion. His challenges at 135 pounds are minimum at best right now.
It seems unlikely a Cruz match would occur right away without the former champ getting some time to get his feet wet again. Nevertheless, without a viable challenger at the moment, the 26-year-old Barao sits in the prime of his career at the top of his division.