LAS VEGAS -- Jake Ellenberger has been down to Rio de Janeiro and trained at the Nova Uniao camp. That, of course, is the home of the dynamic duo which has produced a combined win streak of nearly 50 fights, UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo Jr. and bantamweight champ Renan Barao.
And while the gym seems shrouded in mystery to fans here in North America -- Aldo and Barao head up this way, don't say much, kick some ass, and return home -- Ellenberger has found that the secret to success is a simple work ethic above and beyond even the lofty standards set by the top camps in this sport.
"I've seen the way they train," said Ellenberger, who meets Robbie Lawler on the main card of Saturday's UFC 173. "They really live the lifestyle there, inside and outside the gym. It's really no secret, every day of the week they really work hard. It's not really surprising that Jose Aldo and Renan Barao are two of the best fighters in the sport, period. If you watched them train for a week, you really would see why."
Barao, who defends his title against T.J. Dillashaw in the main event of UFC 173 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, has won 32 consecutive fights (minus a no-contest). That's five more (also less a no-contest) than the sport's most celebrated streak, the one put together by former PRIDE heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko.
UFC 173 is filled with accomplished veterans who have been there and done that, but all of them are a little bit in awe of what Barao has accomplished.
"Thirty-two wins!" animated Daniel Cormier said, laughing and shaking his head in disbelief. "I can't even imagine. If I win, I'm 15-0, and I'm not even halfway there. Do you know how many things would have to go right in this sport in order to win another 17 fights?
"Even Cain Velasquez, as great as he is, got hit by Junior dos Santos and the ‘0' was gone from his loss column forever," Cormier continued. "It happens as quick as that. That tells you how awesome it is, what Renan Barao has managed to accomplish. We all have off nights. Renan Barao hasn't had an off night in eight years."
Indeed, Velasquez's loss to dos Santos shows that the twisted whims of the MMA gods seem to ensure that even the greatest of fighters have their bad nights. There are so many things that can go wrong.
"I don't know who you are, I don't care how talented you are, every day someone wakes up and goes, f---, today's just not my day," said UFC president and unabashed Barao fan Dana White." Everybody has that day where it's not their day, and in this sport anything can go wrong. You can get caught in a bad position, and you can end up facing a guy who isn't necessarily the most talented guy on earth, and he hits like a truck."
Robbie Lawler's been at this since 2001, when he started his pro career with seven consecutive victories. Asked how to put together a streak like Barao's, Lawler reacted with his classic sense of deadpan.
"I wouldn't know," Lawler grinned. "Obviously he's a hell of a fighter, for him to do what he does is amazing. He's getting better and hat's off to him."
Dan Henderson has been around even longer than Lawler, so he's been a firsthand witness for runs like Emelianenko's and the 20-fight win streak put together by Glover Teixeira. While Henderson points out we don't know a whole lot about the caliber of opposition early in Barao's run, he still concedes Barao has done something remarkable.
"I don't know who the next closest guy's streak is," Henderson told reporters. "I don't know all the competition he's faced in the streak, but the last couple years, he's definitely been the tops in his weight class and kept the streak going. It's very impressive."
Ellenberger, the guy who's been down to Brazil and watched Barao and Aldo up close and personal, gets the last word.
"That's unreal," Ellenberger said. "That's really unheard of. He's got to be the only guy that you've heard of with that kind of record. And that kind of win streak, to have a handful of wins, five or six wins in a row, that's difficult. That really just kind of shows his dedication and his routine to training."
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