Renan Barao used Urijah Faber to grow the widening gulf between himself and the rest of the 135-pound division.
Barao tagged “The California Kid” with a pair of blistering right hands before finishing him with first-round hammerfists to retain the Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight crown in the UFC 169 headliner on Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. The budding Nova Uniao superstar brought it to a close 3:42 into round one, as he ran his current winning streak to a staggering 22 fights.
The champion floored Faber roughly two minutes into their encounter and dialed up knees and punches for a potential quick finish. The Team Alpha Male patriarch ran the initial gauntlet but only prolonged the inevitable. Another right hand from Barao connected and leveled the former World Extreme Cagefighting champion. A series of unanswered hammerfists came next, leading referee Herb Dean to intervene despite Faber’s immediate objections.
Few viable challengers remain for Barao at 135 pounds outside of Raphael Assuncao and T.J. Dillashaw, with the former holding the slightest edge by virtue of his head-to-head victory over “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 14 finalist. Should Assuncao defeat Francisco Rivera at UFC 170 on Feb. 22, it stands to reason that he would vault into position as the No. 1 contender. However, if the Brazilian stumbles, Dillashaw would be in line to pick up the pieces. The 27-year-old won for the fifth time in six fights at UFC Fight Night 35 in January, defeating Mike Easton by unanimous decision.
The immediate future appears even murkier for Faber, who finds himself stuck in a sort of purgatory behind the dominant Barao. He turns 35 in May and has lost his last six title fights. With that said, a rubber match with snakebitten former champion and archrival Dominick Cruz will always make sense.
In wake of UFC 169 “Barao vs. Faber 2,” here are five other matchups that ought to be made:
Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes: Though largely overshadowed by his Nova Uniao stablemate in the main event, Aldo was nevertheless dominant in retaining his featherweight championship with a one-sided unanimous decision over Ricardo Lamas. The Brazilian dynamo has rattled off 16 consecutive victories and firmly entrenched himself as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. Mendes last fought at UFC on Fox 9 in December, when he overcame illness to outpoint American Top Team’s Nik Lentz. The Team Alpha Male standout owns a 7-1 record in the UFC, a knockout loss to Aldo in January 2012 the lone misstep.
Alistair Overeem vs. Stipe Miocic: Overeem returned to the winner’s circle for the first time in more than two years, as he thumped a fading Frank Mir for the better part of three rounds en route to a one-sided decision. The “Demolition Man” remains one of MMA’s more intriguing heavyweights despite recent knockout losses to Antonio Silva and Travis Browne. Now 5-1 in the UFC, the fast-rising Miocic cruised to a unanimous verdict over Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC on Fox 10 on Jan. 25.
Ali Bagautinov vs. John Dodson: Outside of a second-round burst of vicious body blows, Bagautinov largely controlled and contained the heavy-handed John Lineker in capturing a unanimous decision. A two-time combat sambo world champion, the Dagestani flyweight has pieced together an impressive 11-fight winning streak and emerged as a potential title contender at 125 pounds. Dodson has been sidelined with a knee injury since he knocked out Darrell Montague at UFC 166 in October. “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 14 winner has compiled a 4-1 mark since arriving in the UFC in 2011, losing only to flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson.
Abel Trujillo vs. Bobby Green: Even MMA generates a Hail Mary from time to time. On the eve of Super Bowl XLVIII, a badly hurt Trujillo knocked out onetime WEC champion Jamie Varner with a right hook during a wild second-round exchange. The 30-year-old Blackzilians representative survived a barrage from Varner and uncorked a series of haymakers, one of which found its mark. Trujillo was originally booked to face Green at UFC 169 before the former two-division King of the Cage titleholder withdrew for undisclosed reasons. Green has posted seven consecutive wins, including victories over Jacob Volkmann, James Krause and Pat Healy inside the Octagon.
Ricardo Lamas vs. Nik Lentz: Like so many others before him, Lamas was simply outclassed against the aforementioned Aldo. Trapped on his feet and under fire from multi-punch and multi-kick combinations, “The Bully” went all five rounds with the featherweight champion. He made one final pass at an upset late in round five, where he scrambled into top position and targeted Aldo with ground-and-pound. However, his late surge did not produce the necessary finish. His title bid denied, Lamas must now focus on the long climb back to contention. American Top Team’s Lentz finds himself in a similar position, having fallen short against Mendes at UFC on Fox 9 in December.