Renan Barao will return to the Bantamweight division when he faces Aljamain Sterling at UFC 214 on July 29th.
Former UFC Bantamweight champion Barao, returns to the division where he made his name after an unsuccessful and short stint competing at Featherweight. His opponent on the night, Sterling, recently ended a two fight losing streak by defeating Augusto Mendes back at UFC on Fox 24, and will be looking to add the former title holder to his list of notable wins inside the octagon.
It’s easy to forget that not too long ago, Barao was once labelled one of the pound-for-pound kings of the sport by UFC President, Dana White. At the time, this comment made complete sense as Barao had amassed a highly respectable record of 25-1 (1) prior to signing with the UFC, following the WEC merger. He then went on a three fight win streak, leading to an interim title shot against Urijah Faber, the headline fight of UFC 149 in July 2012. On the night Barao impressed and battered and bruised Faber to pick up the win and most importantly the title of UFC Interim Bantamweight champion. Barao went on to defend the interim belt twice before being promoted to the UFC Bantamweight champion in 2013, where he defended the belt once more by beating Faber again, this time via controversial first round stoppage.
In May 2014, Barao would defend his title against huge betting underdog, T.J. Dillishaw, in the headline fight of UFC 173. Many did not anticipate this being a very competitive fight and many wrote Dillishaw off before the contest had begun. However, Dillishaw from the outset displayed fantastic, Dominick Cruz-esque footwork to quickly baffle Barao and unleashed a devastating right hand at the end of the first round that hurt Barao more than we had ever seen him hurt before. Over the subsequent rounds, Dillishaw continued to batter, outpoint and outwork Barao, eventually culminating in a fifth round stoppage win and the crowning of a new UFC Bantamweight champion. This marked only the second time in Barao’s illustrious and storied career that he had been beaten, and the first time he had been stopped due to strikes.
A rematch was quickly booked for UFC 177, but just 24 hours before the fight, Barao had to withdraw due to an injury he sustained whilst cutting weight in his hotel bathroom and was replaced by promotional newcomer, Joe Soto. He soon returned and defeated journeyman Mitch Gagnon, before being given his rematch for the belt against Dillishaw at UFC on Fox 16. However, Barao would once again succumb to Dillishaw, as the champion was able to utilise his constant movement, cutting angles and brilliant footwork, to defeat Barao, this time via fourth round TKO stoppage.
After his second loss due to strikes to Dillishaw, Barao took nearly a year out from the sport. In early 2016 he announced his decision to move up to the UFC’s Featherweight division and was paired against Jeremy Stephens on the UFN 88 card. After a relatively successful first round, Barao was at the receiving end of a Stephen’s haymaker, which badly hurt him. Barao managed to survive an onslaught and see out the fight but lost via unanimous decision to the noticeably bigger Featherweight fighter. This marked the first time in his career that Barao had lost two fights back-to-back, and was also his third loss in four fights.
Barao was then booked against Phillipe Nover at UFN 95, in his home country of Brazil. This fight served as the co-main event and although Barao did not look like the dominant fighter he once was, he managed to pick up a unanimous decision win. However, it was clear he would not be able to make strides in the Featherweight division.
In April 2017, news broke that Barao was considering moving back down to Bantamweight after going 1-1 in the UFC’s Featherweight division. This was later confirmed in May and his opponent was announced as Aljamain Sterling for the big UFC 214 card. It will be intriguing to see how Barao readjusts to his old weight class and whether or not the two violent Dillishaw beatings have taken their toll on the Brazilian.
UFC 214 will be held at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California on July 29th 2017 and will be headlined by Cormier vs. Jones II.