“Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical.” -Yogi Berra

While the competition which unfolds inside of a mixed martial arts cage is a far cry from what takes place between the lines on a baseball field, these words of an icon and hall of famer hold tremendous weight when gauging how to approach the savage science.

Never have these words been truer than in the promising career of former UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao. This young man has fallen from well-versed, unstoppable force to glaring question mark in less than a year’s time. At least that is the perception of the untrained eye most casual MMA fans may peer through.

There is far more to the story when it comes to Renan Barao.

The big picture tells us of a ruthless and cunning warrior who built a reputation as an unstoppable force which few who entered his world could endure. That all changed this past February when that unstoppable force met an immovable object in the form of T.J. Dillashaw. While this is no history lesson, it is important to note that Dillashaw put the type of beating on the champion that can change a man for a very long time, if not indefinitely.

In one of the most impressive upset title victories this sport has seen in quite some time, Dillashaw manhandled and outclassed a champion many thought to be the elite of the elite, one of the pound for pound greatest fighters walking the earth. Dillashaw made Barao look like a child and broke him in every way imaginable that night.

Due to his reputation and prior outright dominance Barao was offered a shot at immediate redemption. Six months after having his title ripped from his grasp by the new champion, Barao stumbled. For a fighter who has fought almost three dozen times with little failure, suddenly something as routine as a weight cut had become problematic for the former champion and he was forced to withdraw from his rematch with Dillashaw at the very last minute leading up to fight night.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

The time is now for Barao to recapture the momentum that was once a freight train barreling down the tracks towards legendary status. The time is now for Barao to seize an opportunity to erase these obstacles and dismiss them as mere speed bumps along the on-ramp back onto his highway of success.

He will have his opportunity this weekend in his homeland of Brazil as he cages up with a man on his own tear of success, Mitch Gagnon. Here are a few keys to success for the Nova Uniao trained warrior to regain that which many believe is by far and away is his place atop the food chain, competing with the elite of the division.

Protect the neck.

The simple math on Gagnon tells us he is a scrappy kid who doesn’t mind creating chaotic exchanges to open doors for him to weave his high-level grappling into the discussion. He will get right in a fighter’s face and bully them to create those openings. The fighter who does not maintain composure often finds themselves on the business end of a filthy submission lock. Primarily choke holds, to be more specific.

While Gagnon is of the new breed and a well rounded and often dangerous fighter, this young man is a finisher with a penchant for the chokehold. Having won five of his twelve wins by guillotine and then five more by rear naked choke, it is no mystery what this young man would like to do, given the opportunity on fight night.

For the well-versed Jiu-Jitsu black-belt Barao, defending and more importantly avoiding, that discussion is the ideal course of action. If that is where this kid feels most comfortable, why bother even swimming in those waters when there are so many more tools to rely on for Barao to get the job done? That is to say, even though Barao may actually have superior Jiu-Jitsu, leave that door tightly shut so as to frustrate his opponent and drag him into far deeper waters.

Sweep the leg, Johnny.

If ever there were an underutilized and equally devastating technique in the game of mixed martial arts, that technique would be known as the leg kick. For the connoisseur of combat arts, the leg kick has time and time again proven to be one of the most subtle yet crushing attacks in the game if used relentlessly and with authority.

When Gagnon is recovering from training in the evenings and watching video of Barao with his camp, the only success he has to go on is the wicked destruction that the current champ Dillashaw put on him. Good luck finding any other blueprint that displays how to defeat this savage once the cage doors close.

With that said, one can be certain that mimicking that performance in some way will be paramount in the eyes of Gagnon and his team. The one key ingredient which made that beating possible was superior footwork. The art of being in a man’s face then disappearing before he knows what happened is a style made famous by former UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. Dillashaw was able to implement it perfectly. Gagnon will certainly notice how success is perpetuated by this approach.

It is up to Renan Barao to neutralize any such attempts at repeating that approach at his expense. Remember earlier when it was said the leg kick is underutilized across the sport? That is simply not the case among the beasts roaming the mats at Nova Uniao. Guys like Barao and UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo have made careers of chopping down fighters with the most devastating level of technique: attacking the legs of their opponents.

He must make his statement early and often against Gagnon to crush any hopes of not only dancing around Barao, but also draining out the fuel for the takedowns he may need to secure the choke finish he is certainly looking for.

Would the real Renan Barao please stand up?

This one is simple. Renan Barao is 32-2 with a near 69% finish ratio. Renan Barao is a crafty and relentless striker who can and will crush a fighter when things hit the mat as well. It was no accident when they said he was one of the best in the world. That is a reputation which is hard earned. Up until February of this year, Barao had lived up to the hype.

There is no reset button, there are no mulligans, but it’s far more mental than it is physical. Do you know why Renan Barao made one of the most difficult sports on the planet look easy? The answer is because he believed in himself, his talent, his ability, and his hard work.

Barao just needs to wipe away the things which ailed him earlier this year. He needs to accept that T.J. Dillashaw outclassed him. Few fighters walk the earth without tasting the bitter sting of defeat. The greatest fighters use that emotion as fuel to reach farther, to dig deeper, to run faster, to be greater.

Renan Barao already has everything he needs to rise like a Phoenix from the ashes. If he could return to form and show us the Renan Barao we remember from 2013 then he has already won.

One can only imagine the warrior we may see on fight night if Renan Barao has found a new motivation from the most difficult trial of his career and he has in some way evolved beyond what we remember. That is a scary thought for Mitch Gagnon, and the entire bantamweight division.


About The Author

Todd Jackson
Staff Writer

Todd Jackson is a lifelong combat arts fan. MMA in particular has become a passion over the years. As an analyst his write ups have been featured by such websites as ESPN, FOX Sports, and Sports Illustrated over the years. Todd has interviewed world champions and hall of fame fighters. Yet his true inspiration comes in studying the fighter of tomorrow, the rising regional athlete. Todd is also a cageside commentator for an Arizona based promotion which allows him very unique insight into the sport he loves.