Renan Barao would rather wait his turn in the chilled shadow of Jose Aldo than step into the cage with someone he looks to as a brother.
The UFC bantamweight champ is without a doubt the most underappreciated champion in MMA history. His résumé speaks for itself—undefeated for nearly a decade with 22 straight wins. These are feats comparable to heavyweight legend Fedor Emelianenko.
At only 27 years old, Barao really does have the entire world in the palm of his hands.
“I just keep working hard, practicing a lot, practice a little bit of everything,” Barao said through a translator in a phone interview with Bleacher Report. “Just be prepared for everything. That’s the way I always try to see things.”
Barao’s transcendental abilities haven’t changed a selflessness and humbleness that only few have the pleasure of knowing. During the UFC Fight Night 40 media scrum, UFC president Dana White said that “without a doubt” Barao is the No. 2 ranked best pound-for-pound fighter in the world behind Jon Jones.
When asked if he disagreed, Barao explained that more work needed to be done on his part, and instead, he tipped his hat to UFC featherweight champ and fellow Nova União member Jose Aldo.
“I’m happy just doing my job and my best. Maybe in the future Dana will call me No. 1,” he said. “For me, definitely Jose Aldo [is the best fighter in the world]. He’s the most complete fighter, and I train with him every day. I think he’s the best.”
With six UFC title defenses under his belt, Aldo is right behind Jon Jones in a bid to tie or surpass Anderson Silva’s legendary record for 10 successful title defenses. The featherweight division has shown the propensity to churn out new contenders, but thus far, all have been effortlessly swallowed by Aldo’s greatness.
The same could soon be said about Barao, a young phenom with three consecutive title defenses already under his belt. White’s reasoning for placing him ahead of Aldo in the pound-for-pound rankings is performance-based only.
Like Silva, Barao has a flair for finishing opponents inside the Octagon in devastating fashion. He may not command the same kind of following as other UFC champions, but you would be hard-pressed to find a more exciting fighter than Barao.
With that said, things can become stale in a hurry for MMA fans.
Murmurings of potential superfights generally creep up two or three title defenses into a champion’s reign. The top pound-for-pound fighter in the world could be Aldo or Barao, and the two are only separated by a division. It’s a convenience that hasn’t been realized since Silva and Georges St-Pierre’s run as UFC champions.
Unfortunately, it appears that the closest we’ll ever get to seeing Barao compete against Aldo is at the Nova União training center. If White calls for a superfight, Barao leaves no opening for negotiation.
“Me and Aldo are like brothers, and it’s not gonna happen,” he said.
Instead of superfights, Barao is solely focused on defending his UFC title against TJ Dillashaw in the main event of UFC 173.
Team Alpha Male’s Dillashaw, who is serving as a replacement for the injured Raphael Assuncao, boasts a supreme confidence that he will be the man to oust Barao. During an interview with MMAWeekly, he claimed that he intends to shock the world the same way Chris Weidman did when he defeated Anderson Silva for the UFC title.
Talk is cheap for Barao, who fully intends on reminding the world why he is the best at 135 pounds.
“Everyone thinks in a certain way. TJ can speak whatever he wants,” Barao said. “He’s been speaking a lot lately about that. I’m just waiting for the day of the fight, and then I’ll enter the Octagon and prove TJ wrong.”
While Barao respects Dillashaw as an opponent, he honestly believes Assuncao would have been a tougher opponent. The Brazilian was coming off a split-decision win over Dillashaw, but his opportunity at the title was forfeited after suffering an injury in training camp.
“Yes [Assuncao would have been a tougher matchup],” Barao said. “He was the guy who fight [TJ]. He earned the right to have a title shot [by winning] five or six straight fights in the division, but he hurt himself and the opportunity was given to Dillashaw.”
All will be revealed when Barao finally steps into the cage with Dillashaw at UFC 173 on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Barao expects a “great fight” against a “really tough opponent.” If things go his way, fans might even get treated to a new post-fight celebratory dance.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’ll definitely be a surprise,” he said.
Jordy McElroy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also the MMA writer for Rocktagon. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.