If I were to ask my magic MMA eight ball if Renan Barão is the future of the bantamweight division, the answer would be: “signs point to yes.”

Barão holds a terrific record of 28-1 and is 3-0 in the UFC, winning each fight in dominating fashion. He has shown diversity in his game against good opponents and now has the chance to become the future of the division if he can get through Urijah Faber at UFC 149 and capture the UFC interim bantamweight championship belt in the process.

If the Nova União product does defeat Faber, he will still have to defeat the sidelined UFC bantamweight champion, Dominick Cruz, to unify the belt. Wins over these two are necessary to cement Barão’s status and answer the question of if he ever deserved consideration as “the future.” Barão is worthy of the thought and has the skills and opportunity to achieve that goal.

At a young 25 years of age, it’s important to consider that Barão has several years to make his case. He already has a strong amount of experience, albeit his entire career was strictly fought in Brazil until fighting for the WEC in 2010. Six fights (and wins) later, and now Barão is fighting for a UFC belt. Even with a loss against Faber, he has plenty of time to stake his place in the division for a long time to come.

The UFC bantamweight division is still maturing and is not the deepest, therefore fighters such as the Brazilian only need a few strong fights to be considered top contenders. That does not mean a fighter such as Barão is undeserving or being fast-tracked up the ladder, it’s that the divisional picture can become clear with fewer fights.

Cruz and Faber dominate the attention of the division and have beaten most of the top contenders in any position to challenge them. Michael McDonald is one of the very few names left to consider for contendership after Ivan Menjivar’s loss at UFC 148. Barão does have more experience and better name recognition to his credit over McDonald, which is added incentive to have higher expectations of him.

A look at Barão’s three UFC fights show why he can be considered the future at 135 pounds.

Barão made his UFC debut in May 2011 against Cole Escovedo and put on a solid performance, controlling from the top in his opponent’s guard for most of the fight. The bout wasn’t particularly exciting, but the crowd was interested by the end of third round when both fighters began trading on the feet. Barão secured every attempted takedown and made controlling his opponent look easy while also never finding himself in any danger of being submitted. Escovedo had only won one of his last six fights at the time, so a win against him wasn’t a spectacular statement but Barão took a convincing decision for his UFC debut.

His next fight against Brad Pickett is the kind of career-defining performance that moved Barão into the bantamweight division’s consciousness. Barão was fighting an Englishman on his own turf and he stood toe to toe with Pickett, besting him with technical brawling. The performance showcased Barão’s skilled and diverse stand-up, which had only been seen in glimpses against Escovedo. Barão demonstrated excellent use of range with kicks and punches, as well as a not often seen standing knee strike used effectively. He felled Pickett with accurate strikes and quickly jumped to his back, securing a rear-naked choke for a first-round finish.

These two fights within the UFC displayed Barão’s well-rounded ground and stand-up games, as well as his ability to finish. These are the makings of a dangerous up-and-comer, justifying Barão as worthy of attention.

The UFC gave the Brazilian a stiff test for his next fight in talented wrestler Scott Jorgenson, who loves to brawl. Again, Barão showed more of his strong striking with diverse kicks, utilizing a strong jab and one-two punch combinations efficiently. Jorgensen was unable to take Barão down outright and settled for pulling guard, but found little success with his position. Barão took a clear decision against a proven competitor and made it clear he deserves to fight the top tier at 135.

Given the circumstances, the UFC is making the best of its situation surrounding the loss of Cruz for an undetermined amount of time. A match against a talented up-and-comer is just as intriguing as seeing Faber and Cruz go at it for a third time. Instead of taking another fight to prove himself, Barão now gets the chance to test his abilities against arguably the most popular bantamweight fighter in history. While the fight was not initially planned between the two, it feels just as meaningful, if not more interesting.

Barão has shown the signs that point to him being a major play in the bantamweight division for years to come. He has a well-rounded and dangerous game, plenty of experience, and time on his side. This Saturday at UFC 149, Barão will get to prove if that adds up to the future being now.

Photo: Renan Barão (R) connects with a right hand (James Law/Heavy MMA)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.