Renen Barao is the real deal.
This past Saturday at UFC 138, Barao faced his toughest challenge yet. With his resounding defeat of Brad Pickett, Barao notched his 27th straight win—and 13th by submission.
Both fighters came out swinging, and while Barao got the better of most exchanges, Pickett held his own in the opening minutes. After catching Pickett square in the face with a knee, Barao threw a barrage of punches, knocked Pickett down, and wasted no time taking his back.
Sinking in a body triangle to control Pickett, Barao eventually worked in a deep rear-naked choke, giving Pickett no choice but to tap.
For those who questioned Barao's legitimacy in the bantamweight division, this was a compelling performance. Barao steamrolled his toughest opponent to date, in front of a hostile crowd to boot. Defeating Pickett, ranked No. 8 by USA Today/MMA Nation, should certainly land Barao firmly in the Top 10 rankings.
So...what's next for Barao?
Given the relatively shallow bantamweight ranks, it's easy to make a case for Barao to get the next title shot against champ Dominick Cruz. Top contenders Brian Bowles, Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavides have all already faced Cruz and lost. The UFC needs new blood at 135 lbs, and Barao offers exactly that.
However, while a title shot shouldn't be completely out of the question, it makes more sense to put him in a title eliminator fight against the winner of Bowles vs. Faber at UFC 139.
Not only does Cruz need time to recover from hand surgery before facing his next opponent, a fight against either Bowles or Faber would allow fans to become more familiar with Barao and help build his brand. On the flip side, defeating Barao would also legitimize a second shot at Cruz for either Bowles or Faber.
Bowles and Faber face one another on Nov. 19, and barring any injuries, a fight against Barao should be possible for early 2012. By that point, Cruz should be ready to begin training again, with a mid to late 2012 title fight well within reason.
Your move, Sean Shelby.