Barao is willing to take small steps on the path back to UFC gold. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
It has been a tough year for Renan Barao.
In the span of six months, the 27-year-old Brazilian went from successfully defending his UFC bantamweight title against Urijah Faber, to losing the belt in an upset against T.J. Dillashaw, and then losing the opportunity to reclaim the championship.
Barao’s stoppage loss to Dillashaw -- his first defeat since 2005 -- came in May, and an immediate return bout was scheduled for August. Back-to-back training camps in such a short window of time led to weight-cutting difficulties for the Nova Uniao fighter, who was forced to bow out of UFC 177 after being hospitalized on the day of weigh-ins.
But, according to Barao, declining the rematch with Dillashaw was never an option.
“I couldn’t refuse,” Barao recently told Sherdog.com. “It was a rematch for the belt. I would do anything. Unfortunately, what’s done is done, but I’ve turned the page. Now, we’re coming to take what’s ours... We’re arriving much lighter [for the next fight] and trying to stay around the limit of the division so that won’t happen again.”
After seeing training partner and UFC featherweight champ Jose Aldo defeat Chad Mendes at UFC 179, Barao felt even more motivated to avenge his loss to American rivals Team Alpha Male.
“There is always a rivalry. We’re winning 5 to 1, like ‘Dede’ [Pederneiras, Nova Uniao leader] said. Now, I’m trying to get my belt back, which would make my whole team happy. I think I’m the one who’s supposed to get in there and resolve this for myself. I was very happy with Aldo’s great performance, but this revenge is only between me and [Dillashaw].”
With Dominick Cruz and Raphael Assuncao now in the mix for title shots, Barao will have to win a few bouts before earning another opportunity. His first challenge will be Canadian Mitch Gagnon, whom Barao will meet in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night “Machida vs. Dollaway” on Dec. 20 in Barueri, Brazil. The fact that Gagnon is currently ranked No. 15 in the UFC’s official rankings, while Barao remains at No. 1, does not bother the Brazilian.
“The rankings actually aren’t worth anything at all. What counts is to be prepared and put on a good fight to watch. Sometimes, a fight against the 20th-ranked guy may be a lot better than one against the second-ranked guy, an ugly, slow fight,” said Barao. “To me, the ranking doesn’t matter, so whether I’m fighting the 15th or the champion, I’ll be equally prepared.”
The good news for Barao is that, for the first time since February 2012, he can prepare for a three-round bout instead of a potentially grueling five-round championship contest.
“It will be way smoother this time. I won’t hurt my body as much as I do fighting five rounds,” Barao explained. “My preparation is going great. I train three times a day and hope to give 100 percent so that everybody will keep talking about the fight. I hope they’ll enjoy it.”
Despite his willingness to reclaim the title, Barao is in no hurry. The fighter recalled how long he toiled on the regional circuit in Brazil before making his way to the UFC and said he does not mind taking small steps until he has the chance to be crowned once again.
“It took me 10 years to get into the UFC, so one more year, or two, it isn’t a big deal. I’m trying to please the fans, people who have always supported me, those who like me. I’m trying to put on a show. That’s the most important thing.”
Vinicius Giglio contributed to this report.