Renan Barao has rattled off 21 straight wins. | Photo: Sherdog.com
Renan Barao will defend the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight crown for the first time when he faces Urijah Faber in the UFC 169 main event on Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
Barao -- who defeated Faber by unanimous decision at UFC 149 to become interim champion in July 2012 -- was originally booked for a unification bout with Dominick Cruz. However, the oft-injured Cruz withdrew with a growing tear and was subsequently stripped of his title, clearing the way for Nova Uniao’s Barao to shed his interim label. Cruz’s misfortune also opened the door for “The California Kid.”
Faber will enter the cage on the strength of a four-fight winning streak, having defeated Ivan Menjivar, Scott Jorgensen, Iuri Alcantara and Michael McDonald in succession. The 34-year-old Team Alpha Male patriarch has lost his last five title bouts.
Sherdog.com touched base with a number of professional fighters and trainers to gauge their opinions on the UFC 169 headliner:
Jeff Hougland: I’m picking Urijah to win by submission or decision.
Caros Fodor: Going with Barao on this one. The man is a beast and is on fire right now. Think it’s going to be an awesome fight to watch, but I think Barao will pull off the win.
Ray Elbe: Barao could very well be the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world right now. Faber lost convincingly the last time they fought. Is the addition of Duane Ludwig to Team Alpha Male the difference? My pick is Barao by another decision. However, “Bang” is more than capable of putting a plan together to minimize the striking and put the fight in a position where Faber can use his ground-and-pound skills for the upset.
Zach Makovsky: I’ve been a fan of Urijah since the first time I watched him fight, and I really think he has all the tools to beat Barao. Urijah uses his speed and wrestling to win a close decision.
Mitch Clarke: Unfortunately, as much as I like watching Faber, I’ve got to go with Barao by decision.
Travis Wiuff: I’m taking Faber to win a close decision based on his wrestling takedowns.
John Gunderson: I’m going with Urijah. He’s been on a roll and Ludwig has improved his camp tremendously. This may be Urijah’s last chance at gold, so I think he will bring it and possibly finish the champ.
Nam Phan: I’ve got to root for my boy Urijah every time.
Colton Smith: I can’t bet against the American. Urijah has been on a resurgence of late, and because of that, coupled with Ludwig at the helm of Team Alpha Male, I’m taking Urijah by decision.
Robert Drysdale: Barao wins.
Mark Bocek: Barao wins by decision.
James Vick: Barao wins by unanimous decision.
Nick Ring: Barao wins.
Ricardo Liborio: Barao wins a decision.
Michael Guymon: Faber is a freaking workhorse, but I don’t think it will be enough. Barao gets the decision victory.
Mike Ciesnolevicz: Faber has really stepped up and dominated everyone outside of title fights. I see him improving a lot in his overall skills. In my opinion, I just don’t see him winning a UFC title at 135 or 145 pounds as long as Barao and Jose Aldo are in the mix. I’m not sure what weight he walks around at, but maybe he could make 125 and take on Demetrious Johnson.
Joe Duarte: I have to go with Barao in this one. The dude has been cleaning house and shows no signs of slowing down.
Benji Radach: I’m pulling for Faber.
Daniel Downes: Calling Faber the bridesmaid and never the bride is becoming less funny, and sort of sad. Kind of like when your Aunt turns 40 and still hasn't had a steady boyfriend in five years. Unfortunately for the California Kid, the streak continues. Barao's leg kicks and speed help him cruise to a unanimous decision win.
Tom DeBlass: Gotta go with Barao. (He) beats those legs up.
Javier Vazquez: Faber has looked amazing recently. I'm just not sure if he has the right skillset to beat Barao. Barao is just so good at what Faber excels at the most. Faber's submission game is the ace up his sleeve but Barao's is at least as good as Faber's, if not better. This fight will be closer and more competitive than the first but I'm still leaning toward the champ. I'm going to pick Barao via decision 49-46.
THE FINAL TALLYPros Picking Barao: 15
Pros Picking Faber: 7
Follow Mike Sloan on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mikesloan19.