Interim UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao has been patiently waiting for his showdown with Dominick Cruz for well over a year, and now fight fans will finally find out who is the organization’s top 135-pound fighter at UFC 169. The February 1 contest between Barao and Cruz will be the co-main event on a card that will be headlined by a featherweight title fight between Jose Aldo and Ricardo Lamas.
Barao has been successfully defending his interim title since winning the strap at UFC 149 against Urijah Faber. He’s had successful defenses against Michael McDonald and Eddie Wineland. His most recent performance was an impressive second-round stoppage of the ultra-tough Wineland at UFC 165.
After losing his first professional fight, Barao has registered an incredible 31 consecutive victories. It’s easily one of the most impressive winning streaks in the sport and has propelled him up the rankings in the UFC’s own pound-for-pound listings.
UFC President Dana White has been a big supporter of Barao, believing that the champ has been underrated because of the interim champion status that he’s had to deal with. Barao has been more than willing to wait for as he long as he could for Cruz because he wanted to prove that he is indeed the better man. He will finally get that opportunity on Super Bowl weekend in New Jersey.
As for Cruz, it is a truly monumental assignment for his first fight back since 2011. His career has been derailed by multiple ACL issues and surgeries. The UFC had been patient and supportive in waiting for him to return, but White had admitted recently that if Cruz wasn’t ready for an early 2014 return that there was a good possibility that he would finally be stripped of his title.
Fortunately, it’s all systems go and the true champion will be determined in the Octagon. A key for Cruz will be how will he deal with the Octagon rust; will the speed, footwork and athleticism that made him a champion still be there?
Cruz defended his UFC title against Faber and then against challenger Demetrious Johnson, who went on to become the current flyweight champion. That fight happened on October 1, 2011. Since that time, it’s been nothing but frustration and inactivity due to the injuries. Cruz will no doubt be looking forward to finally returning, and knows he will have to be at his absolute best to survive the dominant force that has been Barao.
Rick LaFitte is an MMA Writer for Rant Sports