Ranked No. 15 in the UFC bantamweight division, Mitch Gagnon got a lottery ticket from the promotion.
Flying under the radar with his four-fight winning streak, Gagnon got the call from the UFC to face former champion Renan Barao in his return to the Octagon in Barueri, Brazil, in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night 58.
"I was very surprised," Gagnon told MMAFighting.com. "I just thought that I wasn’t in the picture, that he would be revaluating things with his team, but I guess he’s ready, and I jumped on the opportunity to fight him."
Barao lost the 135-pound title to T.J. Dillashaw via fifth-round TKO in May, and was pulled from a rematch with Dillashaw the day before the weigh-in in August after passing out while cutting weight.
A win over Barao would be huge for Gagnon’s title aspirations, but the Canadian prospect isn’t thinking about it yet.
"I’m not looking at that that much, but yeah, it definitely puts me on the map. It definitely takes me right up there," he said. "This is the biggest fight of my career, I’m fighting excellent champion, so it’s definitely huge.
"He’s been champion for years, he’s very talented, so I’m really happy to be fighting him."
Barao, 9-1 under the Zuffa banner, is still ranked No. 1 in the 135-pound rankings, but has a lot to prove now after the UFC 177 fiasco.
"I don’t know which Renan Barao is gonna come out," Gagnon said. "I’m not really thinking about what keeps him motivated. That doesn’t concern me. What concerns me is what I’m going to do, put my time in the gym and make me sharp ready for Dec. 20."
Being "sharp ready," Gagnon believes he can improve to 12-1 in MMA with another finish.
The talented Canadian has won 10 of his bouts via submission, with six guillotine chokes and three rear-naked chokes, and tapping a black belt in Barao would be huge for his future in the UFC.
"Yeah, I definitely think I can (submit Barao)," he said. "I will put the pressure on him and if he makes any mistake, I’ll definitely getting a submission."