Renan Barao can take a bow -- and a breath.
Barao was cold and precise in picking apart Team Alpha Male founder Urijah Faber en route to a lopsided unanimous decision and the Ultimate Fighting Championship interim bantamweight crown in the UFC 149 main event on Saturday at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The 25-year-old Brazilian chopped down Faber with crisp punching combinations and a steady diet of leg kicks. Barao, who trains alongside UFC featherweight king Jose Aldo under the Nova Uniao banner, has won 19 consecutive fights.
Barao kept Faber at a safe distance throughout the 25-minute encounter, as he grew more and more comfortable in the pocket. He supplemented multi-punch combinations with savage leg kicks, a tactic that forced “The California Kid” to alternate between stances in an attempt to minimize damage. All three judges scored it for Barao by 49-46, 50-45 and 49-46 counts; he has not tasted defeat in more than seven years.
With reigning 135-pound champion Dominick Cruz stuck on the sidelines recuperating from a serious knee injury, the newly minted Barao could find himself confronted by a lengthy layoff of his own. Cruz underwent reconstructive knee surgery in June to repair the anterior-cruciate ligament in his left knee. Typical recovery time for such an injury runs between six months and a year, placing the 26-year-old champion’s return sometime in the first quarter of 2013.
No other viable title contenders have emerged at 135 pounds, so the UFC will likely be content stomach Cruz’s recovery in order to pair him with Barao.
In wake of UFC 149 “Faber vs. Barao,” here are five other matchups that need to be made:
Urijah Faber vs. Miguel Torres: Zuffa saved the Faber-Torres bout for a rainy day. Perhaps now would be a wise time to cash in. Faber has compiled an ugly 0-5 mark in his last five title fights and one has to wonder whether or not he will ever receive another crack at promotional gold. Torres, meanwhile, was victimized by a Michael McDonald knockout in April and has lost some of the luster that once surrounded him in World Extreme Cagefighting.
Tim Boetsch vs. Alan Belcher: Boetsch spoiled the promotional debut of former Bellator Fighting Championships middleweight kingpin Hector Lombard, remaining unbeaten at 185 pounds with a split decision over the temperamental Cuban judoka. While his performance did nothing to set the masses on fire, it cemented Boetsch as a key player in the division. Belcher has finished his last four opponents, three of them -- Brazilian leg lock connoisseur Rousimar Palhares included -- inside one round. The confident and marketable Roufusport standout has poked and prodded the UFC to pit him against a Top 10 opponent, and “The Barbarian” certainly measures up.
Hector Lombard vs. Mark Munoz: Lombard’s promotional debut could not have gone worse, even though he appeared to do more to achieve victory than his opponent. The split decision loss to Boetsch brought an end to one of MMA’s most celebrated winning streaks, as Lombard lost for the first time since November 2006. Unlike other UFC debutantes, the American Top Team representative does not figure to receive the benefit of the doubt. Lombard has already taken public aim at Munoz, and, with both men now on the rebound, theirs has become a matchup worth booking.
Cheick Kongo vs. Stefan Struve-Stipe Miocic winner: Experience and some sapping clinch work carried Kongo past Shawn Jordan in one of the most forgettable fights in UFC history. As a result, the 37-year-old Frenchman has some work to do if he wants to restore his reputation. Kongo has served a vital role for the UFC in recent years, and that role becomes even more necessary as the promotion attempts to mine talent and find suitable foes for heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos and others near the top of the division. The 6-foot-11 Struve and the undefeated Miocic will toe the line against one another at UFC on Fuel TV 5 on September 29. Maybe Kongo will be waiting in the wings for the victor.
James Head vs. Matt Riddle: Head seized his golden opportunity to compete on the main card of a pay-per-view and ran with it, as he halted the mercurial Brian Ebersole’s 11-fight winning streak with a split decision. Not much was expected from the Oklahoman when he entered the UFC in 2011, but he has responded to his submission defeat against “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 11 alum Nick Ring at UFC 131 with back-to-back victories over Ebersole and Papy Abedi. Riddle impressed as well, as he coaxed a tapout from Chris Clements with a third-round arm-triangle choke. Already on the same page, Head and Riddle could meet to further iron out the welterweight division’s middle class.