“Renan Barao is a monster” are the words bellowed by UFC color commentator Joe Rogan on every promotional piece for the interim 135 pound champion, and at this point that’s a hard point to dispute.
Barao made a statement that he was more than just a placeholder tonight with a spirited performance against 22-year-old up-and-comer Michael McDonald.
The champion had issues with McDonald and his boxing repertoire in the early shades of the bout but as we entered the championship rounds he had figured out the riddle of the youngster, keeping him at bay with his front-kick and exploding with punches, knees and elbows when given the opportunity.
Eventually the rookies succumb to the far more experienced Brazilian, being forced to submit with a arm-triangle-choke in the fourth frame.
Despite being the most decision-heavy event in promotional history with seven bouts needing the judges’ score cards, it wasn’t without excitement with Cub Swanson, Jimi Manuwa, James Te Huna, among others scoring impactful victories.
For a moment let’s get into Joe Silva’s shoes and play fantasy matchmaker, putting together the most interesting and intriguing bouts coming out of tonight.
Barao can make a serious case for being the number-one bantamweight in the world following back-to-back dominate wins over Urijah Faber and McDonald. The Brazilian prodigy won’t hold that top spot until he kicks Cruz off his throne though. Barao versus Cruz is the logical next fight on the docket for Barao but that comes down to the health of “The Domin8r” and when Barao wants to return to the Octagon.
If he doesn’t get a date with Cruz next and wants a second defence of that interim crown you would hear few complaints if he met up with Wineland who is coming off back-to-back victories of Scott Jorgensen and Brad Pickett.
Cub Swanson vs. Chan Sung Jung
Swanson has been a man on a mission, since losing to Ricardo Lamas in his Octagon debut he has buzzsawed through his competition with a trio of knockouts and tonight winning a gritty and exciting bout with Dustin Poirier. With the title held by Jose Aldo held up with the import of Anthony Pettis, pairing him with “The Korean Zombie” would be a real feather in the cap of the victor in their championship campaign.
Jimi Manuwa vs. Ovince St. Preux
Manuwa has had a lot of hype coming into the UFC without a blemish on his record and a jaw-dropping highlight-reel and tonight got his biggest test, shutting down the lengthy veteran Cyrile Diabate, ragdolling him around before an injury stopped him from continuing. Manuwa just needs cage time and room to improve, pairing him with Stikeforce import St. Preux will be a great test for his abilities.
James Te Huna vs. Rafael Cavalcante
Te Huna, the kiwi born Australian has silently chipped away a fine record, with a 5-1 record in the UFC and a lone setback to Alexander Gustafsson. Facing Jimmo, he took a lot of punishment early but when it was gut-check time he fired up to win the bout on all three judges’ score cards. The Sydney resident needs a stiff test, if he can get past former Strikeforce champion Cavalcante he will make it clear he is ready and willing to tussle with the big boys at 205 pounds.
Gunnar Nelson vs. Josh Neer-Court McGee winner
Nelson is a serious prospect, the world grappling champion showed off all facets of his game tonight en route to winning a sound decision over former Sengoku and Strikeforce tournament champion Jorge Santiago. Nelson might be great one day, he might even be champion, but he has holes to fix first and just needs experience. Pitting him against the winner of next weekend’s Neer versus McGee bout is presents a fine test for the Iceland native.
Matt Riddle vs. John Hathaway
Riddle has been criticized heavily for not fighting intelligently and evading game plans in the past but it seems he might have turned a corner, an intelligent performance from Riddle tonight as he wrestled a comfortable decision away from Che Mills. Riddle hasn’t tasted defeat in four bouts and looks to be stringing together a run to the top, pitting him against hot prospect Hathaway is a fine test for both men at this stage of their careers.
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