Michael McDonald has the chance to become the youngest champion in UFC history. | Photo: Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog.com
As participants in the first Ultimate Fighting Championship title bout on Fuel TV, Renan Barao and Michael McDonald will soon become answers to a trivia question.
“Barao” will defend his interim bantamweight crown against the fast-rising McDonald in the UFC on Fuel TV 7 main event on Saturday at Wembley Arena in London. In the co-headliner, resurgent Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts export Cub Swanson aims to raise his stock further in the 145-pound division, as he collides with American Top Team’s Dustin Poirier.
The UFC on Fuel TV lineup provides plenty of talking points. We address some of them here:
Question: McDonald’s accurate power punching has thus far been his ticket to success in the UFC, but he has yet to face a kicker like “Barao.” What are the chances “Mayday” works his way into punching range?
Answer: It all boils down to how long the fight lasts. If it goes the full five rounds, one has to surmise that McDonald will put his hands on the interim champion at some point. And as we saw against Alex Soto at UFC 139 and former World Extreme Cagefighting titleholder Miguel Torres at UFC 145, the 22-year-old needs only one shot to alter the trajectory of a fight.
Question: McDonald is probably the most aggressive puncher “Barao” has faced in the Octagon. The Brazilian is fantastic when he is fighting from the driver’s seat, but can he take what McDonald is capable of dishing out if and when the American closes the distance?
Answer: Any fighter with a 29-1 record tends to do a lot of things well. Such is the case with “Barao.” The Brazilian did just fine when Brad Pickett drew him into a firefight at UFC 138. Obviously, McDonald is a much heavier hitter than Pickett, so it will be interesting to see whether or not “Barao” can handle that kind of artillery, provided the challenger can find a home for it.
Question: Swanson has won three straight fights in impressive fashion, knocking out George Roop, Ross Pearson and Charles Oliveira, each inside of two rounds. If Swanson performs similarly against Poirier, where does he land in the featherweight title picture?
Answer: With champion Jose Aldo tied up until late 2013, uncertainty permeates the rest of the 145-pound division. By beating Poirier, Swanson would certainly be on a short list of potential title contenders, should injury or some other unforeseen circumstance force Anthony Pettis to bow out of his August date with Aldo. Right now, Swanson probably falls in line behind Ricardo Lamas and Chan Sung Jung in the featherweight pecking order.
Question: Poirier is widely regarded as one of the world’s best featherweight prospects at just 24 years old. What are his chances against Swanson, and do you think one day we will see gold around the waist of “The Diamond?”
Answer: Poirier is a fantastic offensive fighter who needs to shore up other areas in his game. He got hit far too much and absorbed far too much punishment in his memorable encounter with Jung in May. If he cannot remedy his defensive shortcomings, Swanson has all the necessary tools to expose him again. Fortunately for Poirier, who recently relocated to American Top Team, youth is on his side.
Question: Jimi Manuwa has looked like a bad, bad man through 12 professional fights. With the possible exception of James Te Huna, the Brit likely owns the heaviest set of hands in the UFC’s light heavyweight division. Will it matter against Cyrille Diabate, a lanky, accurate striker who is unlikely to be intimidated by Manuwa’s power punching?
Answer: It all depends on whether or not Manuwa can quickly rid himself of Diabate. The longer the fight goes, the more it favors the 6-foot-6 Frenchman. What Diabate lacks in knockout power he more than makes up for with technique and timing. Plus, he has experience on his side. Yes, Manuwa looks like a legitimate killer in there, but until the bully gets bullied and faces real adversity, we have no idea what he has buried down deep inside.
Question: As previously mentioned, Te Huna hits like a truck, but he has yet to face an opponent with footwork like that of Ryan Jimmo, who has thus far made a career out of avoiding big shots. Will the New Zealander be able to chase down the karateka and land one on his jawline?
Answer: Give me brute force over nifty footwork any day of the week, especially in MMA. Personally, I think this is an awful matchup for Jimmo. Te Huna’s weakness lies in the ground game -- as evidenced in his loss to Alexander Gustafsson two years ago -- and Jimmo has not won a fight by submission since 2005. Anything can happen, but I see Te Huna ending this one in violent fashion.
Question: Jorge Santiago has gone 1-4 over two middleweight stints in the UFC. Will the former Sengoku champion fare better at 170 pounds?
Answer: Santiago’s chin remains his most glaring shortcoming, and no weight cut can fix that problem. He has tremendous ability, but he will always find himself at a disadvantage at the sport’s highest level because of his inability to take a punch. Let us not forget that Manny Gamburyan, who now competes comfortably at 145 pounds, knocked out Santiago early in his career.
Question: The last time we saw Terry Etim, he was on the receiving end of Sherdog’s 2012 “Knockout of the Year.” Nearly 13 months have gone by since the Brit was felled by Edson Barboza’s wheel kick at UFC 142. Will Etim hit the cage aggressive or gunshy when he meets “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil” veteran Renee Forte?
Answer: That finish was so quick and so violent that one has to wonder whether or not Etim will ever be the same. Some fighters can deal with being on the wrong side of those kinds of events. Other cannot. There is no way to know how Etim will react until he climbs back into the Octagon, so, at this point, your guess is as good as mine.
Question: Danny Castillo and Paul Sass saw their fortunes change for the worse in their last in-cage appearances. After dropping Michael Johnson early, Castillo nevertheless found himself unconscious in October at UFC on FX 5, the defeat snapping his three-fight winning streak. Likewise, Sass’ submission attack was stifled by Matt Wiman on Sept. 29 before “Handsome” tapped the previously unbeaten Brit with an armbar. Which lightweight needs this victory more?
Answer: Sass has more uncertainty surrounding him simply because this will be the first time he will have dealt with failure as a professional. That is always a difficult mountain to scale. With that said, neither man can afford another setback in a division as deep as 155 pounds. Both have plenty at stake.
Question: Once booked to challenge Jose Aldo for the UFC featherweight title, Josh Grispi has experienced a massive career turnaround in the last two years, losing his last three fights. Will “The Fluke” return to his winning ways against Andy Ogle?
Answer: There is no question about Grispi’s talent, which is considerable. However, he has looked undertrained and disinterested at times. That is not a good combination in MMA. Grispi has painted himself into a corner with those three consecutive defeats, and he needs to take care of business against Ogle in order to keep his spot on the UFC roster secure. Because of recent history, it is hard to like his chances here.