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Renan Barao: 'From the moment I won this belt, I considered myself champion'

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Renan Barao may have the pesky ‘interim' caveat on his UFC bantamweight title, but as the months drag on, its significance is starting to mean less to the Brazilian.

"Dominick (Cruz) has been out for a while. It's going to be two years now," Barao said through a translator on Tuesday's UFC 165 conference call.

"No disrespect to him, but from the moment I won this belt, and I have defended it once, I considered myself the champion."

Cruz, the former WEC titleholder and reigning UFC champion, has been sidelined since tearing his left knee in May 2012 during filming of The Ultimate Fighter Live. Subsequent complications created a logjam in the bantamweight division, and now Barao is poised to break the record for most defenses of a UFC interim title with a win over Eddie Wineland at UFC 165.

For Cruz, who last defended his belt in October 2011, time could be running short before the UFC strips him of the title.

"I hope this is the last time it'll be an interim title fight," said UFC President White.

"[Cruz] came in here a few weeks ago and had lunch with me and Lorenzo (Fertitta). He was very confident that he would be ready to go at the beginning of the year.

"If he can't return at the beginning of the year, then we're going to have to make a decision."