Brad Pickett has posted 10 wins in his last 11 outings. | Photo: Jeff Sherwood
Brad Pickett (20-5, 0-0 UFC) vs. Renan “Barao” (26-1, 1 NC, 1-0 UFC)
The Matchup: Rated at the top of Sherdog’s “10 Brazilian Prospects to watch in 2010” list, Barao has since gone 3-0 in WEC and UFC bouts, running his impressive ledger to 26-1. The gaudy record includes a decision win over Cole Escovedo at UFC 130, where he showed a decent work rate to secure the victory. Well-schooled in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and a training partner and teammate of featherweight boss Jose Aldo, Barao could be the Next Big Thing in the bantamweight division -- a weight class led by an exceptionally versatile and difficult to beat champion in Dominick Cruz and populated by top contenders in Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson, all of whom Cruz has already decisioned. An impressive win against the hard-charging Pickett could position him for an imminent title run.
Pickett will have something to say about that, as he always does. The tough slugger combines solid takedowns with a down-and-dirty brawling style, forcing confrontations and exchanges as he sits in the pocket and unleashes hard combinations while daring opponents to trade. Pickett’s ability to transition from striking to quick takedown attempts is excellent, as he will change levels after unloading on opponents to close the gap and make them defend against a shot. Pickett can take a punch and works at a fast rate, making him a handful for any opponent that cannot outwrestle him and place him on his back -- something Scott Jorgensen was able to do in spots to partially defuse his attack at WEC 50. Therein lies a key part of his strategy.
Barao may be the more talented fighter with the more impressive record, but Pickett will likely hold the wrestler’s initiative. He can take it to the ground, or use the threat of a takedown to parlay that into shots that land. Given the pace at which he works, Barao will need to have improved his standup considerably or he will be on the defensive end of the exchanges, something Pickett relishes because he simply never stops punishing and working foes.
Barao has to take this fight over from the opening round and must not cede a big exchange or takedown, which will only cause Pickett’s confidence to surge. He will probably have to time a perfect counter shot or land first to get it to the ground in top position, as he does not seem to have the wrestling to take down Pickett in a tie-up. For his part, Pickett would be smart to let both men get a good sweat going before taking it to the mat, where Barao’s excellent jiu-jitsu and submission game will be exceptionally tricky early. However, Pickett’s intensity and two-handed attack, plus his ability to keep pressuring and punishing, are going to be a handful here.
The Pick: Expect Pickett to score first in some exciting exchanges early. He will work elbows and the grind as they clinch and battle on the cage, wearing down the Brazilian. Pickett will also throw in a mid- to late-fight takedown or two to switch gears and win close rounds, pushing through some threatened submission attempts en route to a clear-cut but exciting unanimous decision.
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