Renan Barao won his 21st straight fight on Saturday night. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The timeline appears to be set for a long-awaited UFC bantamweight title unification bout between injured champion Dominick Cruz and interim titlist Renan Barao.
Cruz has targeted an early-2014 return, but the champion must first receive medical clearance to resume training. “The Dominator” was sidelined more than two years ago with a torn ACL and has yet to return. In his stead, Barao has served as divisional ruler after winning the interim strap in July 2012.
Barao defended that title for the second time on Saturday night at UFC 165 by knocking out former World Extreme Cagefighting champ Eddie Wineland. The Brazilian caught Wineland with a beautiful spinning back-kick to the head and finished the job with ground-and-pound.
“I didn’t plan anything spectacular. I trained very hard,” said Barao following his “Knockout of the Night”-winning performance at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. “I didn’t know whether it would be the standup game or on the floor, but I knew it would come. Luckily, I know now it was a beautiful strike.”
UFC President Dana White said the organization is eyeing a unification bout with Cruz in early 2014, provided all the stars align. As for Barao, he is hoping to face Cruz sooner rather than later.
“I hope he recovers as fast as possible so we can put on a great show for the public,” said Barao. “They’ve all been waiting for that.”
Like the interim titlist, Cruz is also itching to get in the cage, even if he is still currently seated behind a desk as an analyst.
“I’ve always said I wanted to fight the best guy when I come back. I’m not lying about that,” said Cruz from the Fox Sports studio. “The best in the world, in his opinion, is Barao. I think that I can challenge that. I know that I can beat him. I have the tools to challenge him and really trick him out in a lot of different ways with the things that I do in a fight.
“Everybody in the division is tough. Everyone in there is a threat,” Cruz continued. “The difference is I earned the title. I earned that position in a line of great athletes. I want that shot to fight the best guy. I don’t want to go to the back of the line and work my way back up. I want to prove why I belong here and why I have the title, and why I’m the best 135-pounder in the world.”