Renan Barao put away his challenger in round four. | Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
Michael McDonald has by all accounts a bright future ahead of him, but for Renan Barao, there is no time like the present.
Barao coaxed a reluctant tapout from the 22-year-old Californian with a fourth-round arm-triangle choke, as he retained his interim Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight crown in the UFC on Fuel TV 7 main event on Saturday at Wembley Arena in London. The Nova Uniao ace has won his last 20 fights, quickly establishing himself as one of the premier pound-for-pound competitors in the sport.
McDonald put his notoriously heavy hands on the Brazilian in the first round, dropping him to his knees with a volley of short right hands in the clinch. Barao cleared the hurdle with ease and spent the next three frames deploying his fantastic all-around skills. In the fourth round, he pulled McDonald to the ground and, in a blink, transitioned to the fight-ending choke.
With reigning bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz still sidelined with a career-threatening knee injury, Barao’s next move figures to come in another defense of his interim gold. All factors considered, former World Extreme Cagefighting titleholder Eddie Wineland appears to be next in line. The rugged Duneland Vale Tudo representative has posted back-to-back wins over Scott Jorgensen and Brad Pickett, and his nuclear right hand makes him a threat to anyone at 135 pounds.
Considering his current tear, Barao will likely be favored against any bantamweight -- even Cruz -- for the foreseeable future. What’s more, at 25 years of age, his best days may still be ahead of him.
In the wake of UFC on Fuel TV 7 “Barao vs. McDonald,” here are six other matches that ought to be made:
Michael McDonald vs. Brad Pickett-Mike Easton loser: Defeat stings, but McDonald will only benefit from his encounter with Barao at the edge of the 135-pound mountaintop. He turned 22 in January, seems wise beyond his years and has plenty of time to shore up the holes in his already potent game. McDonald responded well to his first loss in 2009, as he proceeded to rattle off eight wins in a row. One has to surmise he will do the same here. Pickett and Easton will lock horns at UFC on Fuel TV 9 on April 6 in Sweden.
Cub Swanson vs. Chan Sung Jung: Swanson staked his claim as a potential title contender at 145 pounds, as he earned a unanimous decision over American Top Team’s Dustin Poirier in the co-main event. The Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts standout will enter his next bout on a four-fight winning streak. Jung has not fought since he rendered Poirier unconscious with a brabo choke in Sherdog.com’s 2012 “Fight of the Year” nine months ago. The 25-year-old Korean underwent surgery to repair a damaged shoulder last summer.
Dustin Poirier vs. Hatsu Hioki: Like McDonald, Poirier has time to grow and improve. The 24-year-old Louisianan did well in spurts against Swanson, but he lacked the consistency he needed to do the job. A Tim Credeur protégé who has relocated to American Top Team, Poirier has lost two of his last three fights but should not fall far on the 145-pound totem pole. Hioki undoubtedly wants to get back on the horse following his controversial and widely panned decision defeat to Clay Guida in January.
Jimi Manuwa vs. James Te Huna: Manuwa and Te Huna met with vastly different experiences at UFC on Fuel TV 7. Manuwa’s light heavyweight showcase with French striker Cyrille Diabate ended in anti-climactic fashion when a leg injury forced “The Snake” to bow out of the match in between rounds one and two. Te Huna, meanwhile, survived a harrowing encounter with a Ryan Jimmo head kick, authored a stirring comeback and ultimately earned a unanimous decision, halting the Canadian’s 17-fight winning streak in the process.
Gunnar Nelson vs. T.J. Waldburger: No one disputes Nelson’s considerable talents, but the Icelandic grappling prodigy remains a little rough around the edges. While the 24-year-old Renzo Gracie understudy managed to notch the most significant victory of his MMA career over Jorge Santiago, he ate plenty of leather from the former Sengoku champion. Waldburger has compiled a 4-2 record since joining the UFC in 2010, having earned a reputation as one of the top submission fighters in the welterweight division.
Matt Riddle vs. John Hathaway: Riddle flawlessly executed his game plan against British striker Che Mills, as he kept the former Cage Rage champion guessing with a steady diet of clinches and takedowns. The 27-year-old may not move the needle much in terms of entertainment value, but his approach has proven successful since Season 7 of “The Ultimate Fighter” launched him into the Octagon with no professional experience under his belt. The once-beaten Hathaway last appeared at UFC on Fuel TV 5 in September, when he cruised to his third straight victory with a unanimous decision over fellow Brit John Maguire.