One of the main components of any MMA fight these days is the game plan or strategy. Long gone are the days in which fighters would just be able to train without much thought of what they would need to do inside the Octagon to get the win.

Head coaches are often given the task of devising a structure to their fighters’ training camps to ensure that by the time the fight comes around it won’t feel like they are implementing a predefined game plan, but it will feel like second nature.

In this feature, we will look to identify the underdog in an upcoming bout and examine what is required of that underdog in order to overcome the odds and predictions and get the all-important “W” in the win column. The point, then, is to step into the shoes of a head coach to break down the fight and provide a game plan for the underdog.

This week’s subject is Urijah Faber, who squares off once again with the newly crowned undisputed bantamweight champion, Renan Barao, at UFC 169 in Newark, N.J. on Feb. 1.

This will be our first major opportunity to recognize Barao as the true UFC bantamweight champion, fresh off the back of Dominick Cruz being stripped of the title due to injury. In truth, it has been a long time coming and the UFC has been very patient with Cruz. But at some point, that patience is always going to run out. Even now, there is no way of saying for sure that Cruz will ever come back to the level he was at prior to the injury, which is a great shame for Cruz himself and MMA fans overall. However, it must be recognized that in Cruz’s absence, Barao has been a dominant champion and deserves the recognition as the top fighter at 135 pounds.

After Faber lost to Barao in 2012, there was considerable talk about that being the last title opportunity Faber may ever get due to his previous losses in title fights. However, since losing to Barao, he has been nothing short of remarkable and was a front-runner for “Fighter of the Year” in 2013, after going 4-0. He now approaches the fight against Barao with a sense of added confidence and self-assurance that wins against the likes of Scott Jorgensen, Yuri Alcantara and Michael McDonald will bring.

The Breakdown

In the previous fight between these two back in July 2012, we saw the emergence of Barao. During the 25 minutes duration of that contest, Barao frustrated Faber and punished his leg in much the way same way as teammate Jose Aldo had previously done.

Since that fight, Barao has gone on to dominate the division in the absence of Cruz. Now that Cruz has finally been stripped of the title, Barao’s reign has been given an added sense of legitimacy on paper, if nothing else.

In the previous fight, Faber struggled to really get to grips with the distance and footwork of Barao. Every time Faber would try to move forward or cut Barao off, he would end up punching the air. Part of this was due to the leg kicks of Barao taking away some of Faber’s explosive ability to close the distance, but Barao, on the whole, was simply too skilled for Faber on that night.

Now, we get the chance to see what the new and improved Faber can do with coach Duane Ludwig in his corner giving him expert advice in the striking department. Whilst T.J. Dillashaw is undoubtedly a good fighter in his own right, to have Dillashaw as Faber’s main corner man for their first fight was a mistake. This time around, Ludwig will be able to fine tune Faber’s striking as they go in a way that Dillashaw simply could not.

One key in this fight is Faber’s ability to evade and withstand the leg kicks that we know are a near certainty given the success that both Aldo and Barao had with them against Faber. However, in his preparations for Barao the last time, you would have expected Faber to have worked diligently on defending leg kicks, safe in the knowledge they were coming on fight night. Therefore, it may be a case of no matter the preparation, there is little way to prepare your leg to get attacked for 25 minutes straight.

The Strategy

In his last fight, Faber landed some impressive shots to knock down McDonald, a young fighter with an incredible amount of promise who is known for his striking ability. This performance from Faber was perhaps his most impressive to date. It showed that although he has been around for years, he is still improving and can keep up with the young talents entering the sport.

With the added bonus of having Ludwig in his corner this time around, Faber’s striking will be more pinpoint precise than in their previous meeting. You would also expect a clearly defined game plan for dealing with Barao’s punches and kicks, which can come in all forms, whether it’s spinning kicks, front kicks or the Nova Uniao trademark leg kick.

Throughout his UFC career, Barao has never been taken down. This is a statistic that Faber will need to change when they meet on Feb. 1, and he’ll need to do so quickly.

In their previous fight, Barao was content to throw leg kicks heavy and often to Faber’s lead leg. Those kicks did irreparable damage and limited Faber’s movement considerably. However, if Faber can make Barao pay for throwing the leg kick early on and use it to take Barao down, it may make the Brazilian think twice before doing it again later on in the fight.

The added bonus for Faber of looking for the takedown early is the element of doubt it will create in the mind of Barao. In the first fight, it was a straight-up striking contest, and Barao was safe in the knowledge that he was consistently just that bit quicker and more precise than Faber.

If Faber can make Barao wary of the takedown threat, then it could cause Barao to hesitate. Even if that hesitation is only for a second, in MMA, that second is all Faber could need to finally realize his dream of becoming a UFC champion.

About The Author

Greg Byron
Staff Writer
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Greg Byron started training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu after his brother introduced him to a local MMA fighter/coach when he was just 16 years old. Greg has trained for nearly a decade in both BJJ and MMA, competing in several grappling events within the UK. In addition to MMA, Greg possesses a law degree and works for a firm in northern part of England.