Under UFC 143 Radar, Renan Barao Can Become Bantamweight Contender With Win

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

It was just three months ago when Renan Barao smashed Brad Pickett, finishing the Brit with a first-round submission. The win was complete in its dominance. Barao out-struck Pickett in the standup, then overwhelmed him on the ground.

That victory pushed Barao's unbeaten stretch to 28 straight fights, and made him a combined 4-0 while fighting in the UFC and WEC. It also solidified his status as a bantamweight title contender, an important development in a division that is currently recycling Urijah Faber for another title shot less than a year after losing to current champ Dominick Cruz.

Yet it may come as a surprise to many that Barao is fighting on Saturday, and that he has a legitimate chance to become the next bantamweight contender with a win over Scott Jorgensen.

Maybe it's the cult of Nick Diaz, or the specter of Georges St-Pierre looming over UFC 143, but not much else has gotten much traction during event week. If one fighter aside from Diaz and Carlos Condit deserve it, it's Barao.

He has exhibited a mature overall fight IQ, with tight yet sometimes unpredictable striking, strong wrestling and an aggressive ground game. Most noticeable of all, Barao has the killer instinct.

Not only has he shown power for a bantamweight, but he hunts for the finish when he senses his opponent is in trouble. Against Pickett, he hurt him with strikes, and then expertly took his back when Pickett was trying to return to his feet. It was a very decisive, telling moment. Many fighters would have chosen to keep position there and dragged their opponent back to the ground, as a misstep while trying to jump to your opponent's back is likely to end with you on the bottom. But Barao chose to be offensive and was rewarded for his risk, soon closing the fight with a rear naked choke.

The win was Barao's first against a top 10 opponent, and it moved him up to No. 7 in the USA Today/MMA Nation rankings. All of the fighters above him have already had their cracks at Cruz.

Even his opponent, Jorgensen, who is ranked No. 5, has had his moment, losing by decision to Cruz in December 2010.

The bantamweights are fairly new on the UFC scene, so observers can be excused for their unfamiliarity with the division's best fighters, let alone others making their way towards the top. But the UFC hasn't done much to put Barao or Jorgensen in the spotlight, either, even when the division is desperate for breakthrough talent. Neither fighter was invited to the open workout, or to the press conference.

Until they do, Barao will have to gain attention the old-fashioned way in this sport: with his performance. He hasn't lost in his last 28 pro fights, so I think we're past the point of wondering whether he's a legitimate top-level fighter. But a win over Jorgensen would make for his second straight against a name opponent. Sometimes you're given the spotlight, sometimes you take it. For Barao, it will likely be the latter.

If his performance against Pickett wasn't loud enough for you, maybe he'll speak a little bout louder against Jorgensen. The Diaz-St-Pierre-Condit circus is certainly worthy of plenty of headlines, but let's face it, regardless of what happens on Saturday, the welterweight division is a fun but jumbled mess. We'll have a champion, an interim champion, and many laying claim to No. 1 contender status. Meanwhile, the bantamweight division is awaiting its next star, and it would be a shame if he arrives while no one is paying attention.

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