If you’ve been watching the last few weeks of The Ultimate Fighter, or programming that could in any way be relatable to MMA fans generally speaking, you’ve probably seen a lot of ads for the upcoming Ronda Rousey/Liz Carmouche fight at UFC 157. The bout, which will be the first between female competitors in the UFC and will crown the promotion’s inaugural women’s bantamweight champion, has been rightly hyped due to its history-making nature. The fact that the Feb. 23 pay-per-view card also contains fights between Lyoto Machida and Dan Henderson as well as the return of bantamweight fan-favorite Urijah Faber certainly makes it an attractive event as well, and the UFC hype machine has been in full swing to promote it since UFC 156 ended on Feb. 2.

What some fans might not know, however, is that there’s actually another title fight taking place a week before the Rousey/Carmouche showdown. On Saturday, interim bantamweight champion Renan Barão will defend his belt against Michael McDonald in the main event of the upcoming UFC on Fuel TV: Barão vs. McDonald card. Sure, there have been a few promotional spots here and there for the event, which will take place in London, but certainly nothing compared to either of the two title fights that bookend it (the Jose Aldo/Frankie Edgar superfight at UFC 156 and UFC 157’s Rousey/Carmouche). Why, then, has Saturday’s main event—a fight between two of the world’s best 135-pound mixed martial artists—not experienced the sort of promotional push that we typically see of UFC title bouts?

For starters, it’s one of three championship fights taking place in the month of February (a UFC first, by the way), and probably the least “significant” in the bigger MMA picture. Aldo/Edgar was a clash between two of the sport’s pound-for-pound greats that also happened to be the latter’s featherweight debut. The importance of Rousey/Carmouche is obvious, but nevertheless bears repeating: It’s the first women’s fight in UFC history. If Barão/McDonald was the only title fight this month, or maybe even one of two, then it would likely be getting the full pay-per-view treatment, complete with regular ads airing across the television network spectrum to get fans excited. Instead, it’s been relegated to cable, a fact which dovetails nicely with my next point.

The event is on Fuel TV, which I don’t even have as part of my basic cable package. Yes, by putting a title fight on the network that is becoming more and more comprised of UFC-related programming, it legitimizes Fuel TV as one of the places for MMA on cable. The partnership seems to be working so far, as the network recently announced an impressive ratings increase it directly attributes to the presence of UFC content. Still, the network remains in the lower programming tiers for the time being and has a long way to go before becoming a cable powerhouse like FX (another UFC network partner). As a result, we can probably expect the ratings for the Barão/McDonald fight to be among the lowest for a recent UFC championship contest.

Another reason Saturday’s title fight is probably not receiving as much hype as other bouts of similar importance is the fact that the two participants are far from being household names, even among MMA fans. Despite the fact that the two have combined for a total of 44 professional wins (29 for Barão, 15 for McDonald) and just two losses (one each), neither has managed to reach the upper echelons of MMA stardom. Barão is undefeated in the UFC (and, actually, since his very first fight) and is the reigning interim bantamweight champion. Yet, he might be equally well known for the “Renan Barão is a monster” quasi-meme that came about during the run-up to his July 2012 fight with Urijah Faber as is he for his performance in the cage. McDonald, like his opponent, has racked up four UFC wins, including first-round knockout victories in each of his two most recent fights. The 22-year-old has been training in MMA since age 14 and turned pro at 16, so he very much represents the future of the sport. Unfortunately, McDonald has been stuck on the preliminary card for all but one of his UFC fights, so he has certainly not gotten the exposure an up-and-comer like him deserves. Also, many people still associate the name Michael McDonald with this man.

Finally, perhaps the biggest reason that the Barão/McDonald is not getting as much attention as the other two February title fights is because it’s not a real title fight. The UFC can give Barão a belt and call him the interim champion, but until someone either defeats actual bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz or the UFC strips Cruz of the belt due to inactivity (he hasn’t fought since Oct. 2011 and there has thus far been no indication as to when he will return), Barão won’t be considered the true 135-pound titlist. This could perhaps be expanded into a larger discussion on the pointlessness of interim titles, but not today. At least the UFC has the good sense not to try to sell this fight on pay-per-view, which would result in an even lower viewership number than the event is already going to see, but the fact remains that an interim championship is not at all the equivalent to a true championship, and anyone not employed in a promotional capacity by the UFC will tell you the same thing.

For those fight fans who want to sit back on Saturday and see some great fights, UFC on Fuel TV: Barão vs. McDonald is going to provide just that. Along with the main event, the card features an exciting featherweight clash between Cub Swanson and Dustin Poirier (both of whom are in The MMA Corner’s featherweight top ten) as well as the return of rising welterweight contender Gunnar Nelson. The winner of Barão/McDonald will likely go on to headline a bigger event, especially if he squares off with Cruz, and will then get the attention he rightly deserves. Before that, though, he’ll need to pay his dues in probably the least-hyped title fight in UFC history.

Photo: Renan Barao (James Law/Heavy MMA)

About The Author

Eric Reinert
Staff Writer

Eric Reinert has been writing about mixed martial arts since 2010. Outside the world of caged combat, Eric has spent time as a news reporter, speechwriter, campaign strategist, tech support manager, landscaper and janitor. He lives in Madison, Wis.