The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to Calgary, Alberta, Canada on July 21st headlined by an interim bantamweight title fight between Urijah Faber and Renan Barão. The co-main event, in which Tim Boetsch welcomes Hector Lombard to the Octagon, is also full of intrigue and offers serious title implications in the middleweight division. Both fights offer a somewhat known quantity, at the very most, against a lesser known quantity (I’m looking at you Hector), at the very least. Let's take a deeper look into these two exciting tilts.
Interim Bantamweight Title Fight: Urijah Faber vs. Renan Barão
“The young lion versus the crafty veteran," in all its various incarnations and variations is a tried and true storyline, not just in mixed martial arts, but in all sports. Urijah Faber seems to be at crossroads in his career. At 33, much of the explosiveness that once made him a whirlwind at 145 pounds seems to have been replaced with his size advantage, the first in his career, to obtain advantageous positions. In November of 2008, Faber lost his WEC featherweight title to Mike Thomas Brown and has not looked the same in title fights since. He lost his rematch with Brown (probably because he had at least one broken hand) and was then subsequently beaten and repeatedly chopped down by Jose Aldo for five rounds. Hoping it may breathe new life into his career, Faber dropped to 135 pounds to have a rematch with Dominick Cruz. Faber lost a contentious decision to Cruz, which lead to UFC 149 as the rubber match; however, fate intervened and Cruz blew out his knee, leaving Faber to fight for the interim title. Since 2009, Faber is 5-0 with four finishes in non-title UFC/WEC events, which would indicate less an erosion of skills, and more that in today’s fight game, there are higher quantities of fighters that are simply better than him.
Faber’s fighting style has always been more or the less the same. He uses his excellent cardio and conditioning to push an accelerated pace on the feet, setting up his takedowns and signature scrambles. With the lower weight-classes now in the UFC, fight fans are starting to see the beauty of “the scramble,” an art Urijah Faber has been perfecting since his days in Gladiator Challenge. The idea of a scramble is to get in a position where you and your opponent each have an opportunity to gain the upper-hand. Then it just happens, like lightning, someone twists, the other man turns, and then suddenly Urijah has his back. Urijah’s back control and chokes (along with choke defense) are just as noteworthy as his scrambling ability. All of this is what made his UFC 132 loss to Cruz so unnerving. Urijah didn’t look to push the pace against the always-shifty Cruz, instead he opted to load up on power punches, and when no finish came, he was left to contemplate what he felt was an egregious judge’s decision. To win this time around, Faber must make Barão uncomfortable. He must drag him into deep waters and put relentless pressure on him.
I remember researching WEC 49, which took place in June of 2010 in Edmonton. Two young prospects with gaudy records, Renan Barão and Anthony Leone, would make their WEC debuts against each other that evening. At the time, Barão was 24-1-1, with a 25 fight unbeaten streak, and Leone was 8-0. Barão had what many considered an "inflated record" due to the level of competition he had been facing in Brazil. His camp, Nova Uniao, was just beginning to make a name for itself on the back of Jose Aldo’s skills. Leone was a personal training partner of B.J. Penn and had wins over respected opponents. I remember thinking it was a good first test for Leone. It ended up being the first exposure to a star in the making, Renan Barão. Barão defeated Leone, who is no longer in the Zuffa organization and is now 11-5, by third-round armbar that night, and has not looked back since.
Barão, now 25, is 28-1-1 with 19 finishes on his resume. Barão uses a mix of power punches, kicks, and knees to inflict the maximum amount of damage possible on his feet to set up his world-class jiu-jitsu and submission game. Against Brad Pickett, Barão used a well-timed knee to drop the durable Pickett, and then submitted him with a rear-naked choke. In his last fight against Scott Jorgensen, Barão used excellent takedown defense and a steady diet of Muay Thai to defeat the former Boise St. wrestler via decision. In that fight, Barão showed that his conditioning may be his downfall. Barão is accustomed to running through opponents, and when he couldn’t do that to Jorgensen, he seemed to tire and slow. For him to defeat Faber, he will need to be ready for five fast-paced rounds.
Prediction: Barão seems to have the stand-up and ground game skill-set to defeat Faber, but the length of the fight will certainly be a factor. I predict Barão dictating early with outside striking and surviving a late onslaught from Faber to take a close decision.
Co-Main Event in the Middleweight Division: Hector Lombard vs. Tim Boetsch
38, 6, 20, 48, 50, 36, and 52.
No, that sequence of numbers is not some convoluted mathematical cipher, but instead each represents the amount of seconds it took Hector Lombard to finish seven fights in the first minute.
Now here’s another list: Herbert Goodman, Jay Silva, Ron Verdadero, Tatsuya Kurisu, Eiji Ishikawa, Matthew Toa, and David Frendin.
That list of names corresponds to each first round finish. Not exactly a list of world beaters.
Hector Lombard has displayed Olympic judo and dynamite knockout power against less-than-ideal competition outside of Zuffa for almost six years while accumulating a very impressive 25-fight unbeaten streak. Lombard’s stocky build and aggressive windmill punching style has made him a fan-favorite without any of the built-in brand recognition that comes with being in the UFC. The problem with Lombard is that when he fails to finish his opponent quickly and can't overwhelm them, he tends to be ineffective and his conditioning wears. A path to victory for Hector probably begins and ends with attempting to blitzkrieg Boetsch. Many, myself certainly not included, believe Lombard is the man to defeat Anderson Silva. Let’s worry about “The Barbarian” first.
Tim Boetsch is 6-3 in the UFC and since dropping down to the middleweight division, is a perfect 3-0, including an all-time great upset/comeback in his most recent contest against Yushin Okami. Boetsch’s nickname, the oh-so-apt “Barbarian,” is an excellent descriptor for a man who just wins ugly. Boetsch likes to do all the things that his opponent must certainly not enjoy. That list includes but is not limited to: clinching, cage positioning, grinding top-game, and most importantly, putting his fist in the other fighter’s face. There is nothing pretty about a Tim Boetsch fight. His improbable comeback against Yushin Okami displayed Boetsch’s ability to take punishment and his willingness to take chances when the cards are stacked against him. For him to defeat Lombard, he will need to survive the early barrage and begin to slow down the fight and grind on Lombard.
Prediction: I think it’s safe to assume that Lombard will come out looking to put Boetsch away early, given that Boetsch is a notoriously slow starter. That being said, I believe “The Barbarian” will withstand the considerable offense of Lombard and wear his foe down in the second two rounds to either take a late third round stoppage, or a clear decision victory.