Cruz, the undisputed UFC bantamweight champion, hasn’t fought since October 2011, when he scored a unanimous decision victory over Demetrious Johnson. Barao, the interim champion, is 5-0 since then, and they will unify the titles when they meet on Feb. 1 in Newark, N.J.
"I was really happy with the news," Barao told MMAFighting.com. "We’re finally getting in there to do the fight that everybody wants to see and find out who’s the real champion. I always wanted it and rooted for his recovery.
"I feel I’m the champion. Being in there and doing my work, I’m a champion already. He’s also the champion, but I am too. Let’s see who leaves the Octagon as the champion."
Barao has beaten five of the six fighters ranked below him in the UFC rankings, but he doesn’t believe Cruz’s long layoff gives him an advantage at UFC 169
"I don’t believe that gives me an advantage," he said. "What gives me an advantage is my training. I will work hard to get there at my best. I’m not counting him out because of the injuries."
After two knee surgeries, Cruz could be an easy target for low kicks in this fight.
"Let’s see which strategy Andre Pederneiras and Jair Lourenco will prepare for this fight," Barao said. "Whatever they decide, I’m doing in this fight."
Barao vs. Cruz will be the co-main event at UFC 169, as featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo puts his title on the line against No. 1 contender Ricardo Lamas. Aldo and Barao are teammates at Nova Uniao in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Barao sees the opportunity of fighting on the same night as his friend as a benefit.
"It will give me an extra energy," he said. "I was really happy when they told me I would be fighting at the same night as Jose Aldo. He’s doing great and should get another win."
Barao also expects Aldo to add another knockout to his record against Lamas.
"I’m sure he will train hard and do what he has to do to win when he enters the cage," Barao said. "Aldo will walk straight forward and score another big knockout. He hits hard and once Lamas makes a mistake, he will get knocked out."