If one were to liken the UFC’s bantamweight division to a house of cards, then current champion Dominick Cruz’s ACL tear essentially flattened the proverbial structure. Instead of the highly-anticipated trilogy between Cruz and longtime nemesis Urijah Faber at UFC 148, the division will now crown an interim champion at UFC 149 on July 21.

After coaching against Cruz on The Ultimate Fighter: Live for three months, Faber will still get his opportunity to compete for UFC gold once again, but instead of Cruz standing across the cage, he’ll face Brazilian demolition artist Renan Barão. While Barão’s name may not ring a bell with casual fans, diehards are more than aware of his ungodly 29-fight undefeated streak that dates back to his second professional bout in 2005.

Both fighters—especially Faber—made their mark in the now defunct WEC. The former WEC featherweight champion will compete in his 11th title bout between the two promotions, but he has not held a belt since 2008.

Let’s take a deeper look at the Faber-Barão match-up. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills matchup against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Striking: Faber – 9, Barão – 10

Barao (R) connects with a strike against Scott Jorgensen (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

Looking at records alone, it would be easy to say that the fight on the feet is even. And, in fairness, neither fighter has a significant advantage in the stand-up department. However, the edge has to go to Barão based on recent performances.

Faber’s attacks have always been unpredictable and opportunistic. You’d have to go back to 2007 to find the last time “The California Kid” stopped a fight with strikes. Yet, in his UFC 132 decision loss to Cruz, Faber consistently scored with counter strikes that put Cruz on his back. If he can remain patient and avoid over-committing to his strikes, he may be able to capitalize once again versus the Brazilian.

For Barão, the edge lies in two things: power and explosiveness. While he will throw a variety of kicks and spinning attacks that may keep Faber guessing, it’s his constant forward motion and flurries that pose the biggest threat. Against an iron-chined Brad Pickett at UFC 138, the 25-year-old connected with a flying knee that dropped the Brit and led to a submission win.

The longer this fight stays standing, the more chances Barão will have to deliver a big shot that could end the fight or setup another tapout.

Ground Game: Faber – 9, Barão – 10

Barao (L) celebrates after submitting Brad Pickett (Sherdog)

Much like the match-up on the feet, both fighters have strengths in the submission aspect of the fight. But, once more, Barão is the fighter who possesses the advantage.

Just like the rest of the Team Alpha Male fighters, Faber possesses a lethal guillotine choke. He’s used to it to submit six opponents in his career, including in his last outing at UFC 139 against Brian Bowles. Against Barão, it’s unlikely that Faber will look for his signature move, as he’ll want to avoid being on his back against someone with the Brazilian’s grappling prowess.

Why, you ask? Barão possesses a Nova União black belt. That’s not something you find in a cereal box or earn by accident. Only the most dominant ground fighters in the world can claim a similar accolade. If Barão gets on top or takes the back of any fighter, including Faber, it’s not a matter of if, but when, he’ll submit them.

Where Faber may be safe is in the fact that he’s never been submitted. But, then again, he’s never faced Barão.

Wrestling: Faber – 10, Barão – 9

Faber (in black) wrestles during training (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

If there’s one area where Faber has a clear-cut advantage over the Brazilian, it’s in his wrestling. The Cal-Davis product’s best chance is to use his takedowns to neutralize the striking attack of Barão and outwork him from the top position.

Since moving to bantamweight, Faber has managed to overpower other 135-pounders, Eddie Wineland and Takeya Mizugaki, to neutralize their striking advantages. If Faber wants to earn gold, he’ll need to focus on his roots and avoid getting drawn into a stand-up war.

Barão’s takedown defense is a huge wildcard in this fight. Although he has faced fighters like Scott Jorgensen and Brad Pickett that possess the ability to put opponents on their backs, both were content to stand and bang with the Brazilian. That likely won’t be the case with Faber.

X-Factor

As mentioned earlier, this is Faber’s 11th title tilt between the WEC and UFC. Although both fighters have nearly the same amount of fights, Faber’s experience on the highest level and in 25-minute battles may play a huge factor in how this fight plays out. For all of Barão’s skill advantages, Faber is unlikely to be surprised by anything that his younger foe brings to the table.

Scorecard: Faber – 28, Barão – 29

Verdict: Don’t get me wrong, this is a close fight on paper. Yet one thing continues to push the outcome in Barão’s favor: Faber’s fight with Barão’s teammate Jose Aldo. Aldo, although a more polished striker, has nearly the same pedigree as Barão. Aldo absolutely dominated Faber with his striking and grappling from the opening bell. Expect a similar result as Barão becomes the interim champion.

Top Photo: Urijah Faber (James Law/Heavy MMA)