At just 27 years old, UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barão (32-1) is arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. Riding an incredible 22-fight winning streak, including seven straight under the UFC banner, the 27-year-old Brazilian has not tasted defeat since his MMA debut back more than nine years ago. In fact, if it weren't for an illegal soccer kick from an opponent back in 2007, which forced the judges to declare the bout a no contest, Barão's win streak could be an astronomical 33 in a row.
In his most recent outing, "The Baron" walked away with a first round TKO victory over the incredibly popular Urijah Faber in the main event of UFC 169 this past January. While the finish was controversial, there is no denying Barão was dominating the entire the fight. This victory pushed gave him three straight title defenses and a win Saturday would tie Barão with MMA icons Chuck Liddell, Frank Shamrock and Pat Miletich for seventh in UFC history.
But standing across from him in the cage is T.J. Dillashaw (9-2), Faber's teammate and Team Alpha Male's latest title contender. Since falling to John Dodson in The Ultimate Fighter 14 Finale in his UFC debut, Dillashaw has stormed through the 135-pound division with wins in five of his next six bouts. His lone blemish was a split-decision loss to Rafael Assunção back at UFC Fight Night 29, in a fight many fans and pundits scored for Dillashaw.
It may not be the most glamorous main event but for those fight fans that live and breathe MMA, but this fight has been in the making for quite some time.
Of his 366 total significant strikes in UFC/WEC competition, 94 percent of those have come while the champion was on his feet, which is good for third all time among active bantamweights. So chances are Barão will look keep this fight standing in order to utilize his ultra-aggressive and accurate Muy Thai attack to pick apart his opponent. With knockout victories in his last two bouts, including a breathtaking spinning back kick against Eddie Wineland in the co-main event of UFC 165, Dillashaw will have to tread lightly as Barão has proven he possesses one-punch knockout power from almost any angle inside the octagon. Aside from his power, Barão utilizes his incredible speed and gas tank to batter his opponents at an alarming rate. In fact he lands 3.7 significant strikes per minute, as opposed to the UFC average of 2.61, so it's no surprise he has never been outstuck by any of his UFC/WEC opponents.
But while Dillashaw entered the UFC as little more than a wrestler, his striker has emerged as one of his strong suits since suffering his first career defeat to Dodson. Since then no other bantamweight in UFC or WEC history has landed 4.84 significant strikes per minute, the highest rate in UFC/WEC bantamweight history. In his last fight landed career high 117 significant strikes in his victory over Mike Easton at Fight Night 35. But where Dillashaw clearly outshines Barão is his ability to continue this offensive output on the canvas. Of his 287 significant strikes landed in the UFC, 33.8 percent of them occurred while Dillashaw was on the ground, the second largest proportion of ground strikes in UFC/WEC bantamweight history. But Barão has never been finished in his MMA career, so it is far more likely he will end this fight standing than his opponent.
While he has dominated his opponents with his unorthodox striking, Barão's underrated it has largely been his wrestling game that has kept the gold around his waist. Successfully stopping 22 of his opponents' 23 takedown attempts against him, Barão's takedown defense rate of 95.7 percent is the highest in UFC/WEC bantamweight history. To put that number into perspective, the second highest is Dominic Cruz's defense rate of 83.3 percent. Even standout college wrestlers like Faber and Scott Jorgenson failed in their attempt to wrestle Barão to the canvas. But Dillashaw's amateur wrestling résumé is right up there with the best of the bantamweight division. So while he may not be able to take the champion down on a regular basis, if he can grab a hold of one of Barão's kicks he could gain some points on the judges scorecards with a perfectly-timed single leg takedown.
But while Dillashaw is bouncing his opponent's skull against the canvas, there is no doubt he is constantly also looking for an opening to lock on a choke from the back position. With all nine of his submission attempts being been rear-naked chokes and having taken his opponent's back 11 times in the UFC, Barão will be in a world of trouble if he leaves even the slightest opening for Dillashaw to scramble up his spine.
However, Barão has more submission wins (14) than Dillashaw has total career wins. Having received his black belt from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu legend André Pederneiras at the acclaimed Nova União gym, Barão has emerged as one of the most dangerous fighters in the world if the fight makes it's way to the canvas. Barao's submission of Michael McDonald at 3:57 of Round 4 at UFC on FUEL TV 7 marked the fifth latest submission in UFC history.
Both men have proven difficult to be takedown inside the cage but if it does turn into a grappling match, Barão's defensive skills and powerful top game will give him a significant edge on the ground. Edge: Barão
Dillashaw is one of the most promising talents to enter the octagon in some time. With a solid wrestling game and a much-improved striking arsenal, there are very few bantamweights who will be able to compete with the California-based fighter as his career progresses.
However, as mentioned above, Barão could very well be the most well-rounded and gifted fighter on the planet. With knockout power at the end of every limb, a seemingly never-ending gas tank and a jiu-jitsu game that has put away some of the most durable fighters in the division, chances are this fight will end with the referee pulling
Barão via Round 2 TKO
Here are the rest of my predictions for the main card and preliminary bouts:
MAIN CARD, Pay-per-view, 10 pm ET
- Daniel Cormier def. Dan Henderson
- Robbie Lawler def. Jake Ellenberger
- Takeya Mizugaki def. Fransisco Rivera
- Jamie Varner def. James Krause
- Francisco Trinaldo def. Michael Chiesa
- Tony Ferguson def. Katsunori Kikuno
- Chris Holdsworth def. Chico Camus
- Al Iaquinta def. Mitch Clarke
- Vinc Pichel def. Anthony Njokuani
- Sam Sicilia def. Aaron Phillips
- David Michaud def. Li JingLiang