In the namesake of tonight’s UFC 149 event from Calgary, Alberta, electric bantamweights Urijah Faber and Renan Barao will tangle in the main event. When 135-pound champion Dominick Cruz — who was scheduled to defend against Faber — withdrew with an injury, Barao was appointed to replace him. The title implications, however, remained in place, as it was announced that the victor would become the interim champion of the UFC’s bantamweight division.
Also on tap: brick-fisted Bellator crossover Hector Lombard will throw down with Cro-Magnon Tim Boetsch in the co-main, heavyweights Cheick Kongo and Shawn Jordan see main-card action and the lineup rounds out with welterweight bouts pitting Brian Ebersole vs. James Head and Matt Riddle vs. Chris Clements. The live pay-per-view begins at 10:00 p.m. ET on the heels of the preliminary card fights on the FX Channel and Facebook.
Urijah Faber (26-5) wrestled at UC Davis and was a 2-time qualifier for the NCAA tournament at the D1 level. He was just one win short of becoming the first UC Davis rep to win All-American honors in 2002. “The California Kid” had a storied MMA entrance: he debuted in 2003, less than a year after his collegiate wrestling run, and by 2008 had become the seemingly invincible featherweight champion of the WEC, registered a scorching 21-1 fight record and skyrocketed to the apex of the world pound-for-pound rankings.
It’s hard to call Faber’s subsequent 5-4 pace a “fall from grace” when every loss was dealt by champion-caliber opposition. Mike Brown defeated him twice; the first unseated him from the featherweight throne and Faber broke his hand in the second. Faber’s last losses were to reigning featherweight champion Jose Aldo and then, after a move south to the bantamweight division, Dominick Cruz bested him by decision to avenge a 2007 guillotine loss.
More UFC 149 Dissections
Since Bloody Elbow’s resident striking analyst Jack Slack has already scrutinized the striking mechanics between the pair, let’s reference Jack’s analysis and apply it to the match up.
Here are Jack’s key critiques on Faber’s striking acumen:
- Relies on his right hand almost exclusively
- Rushes in without head movement or a jab
- Stands in range of his opponents but outside of his own range
1) Relies on his right hand almost exclusively
This observation is pretty self-explanatory. Faber, like most adept boxers in MMA, does not comply with the traditional mechanics of the sweet science. In fact, wrestling was by far his outright core competency through the bulk of his career, but Faber seemed to show marked advancements in his stand up sometime around the Jens Pulver fight.
His stance is distinctive in that he leads off his combinations with both hands dangerously low; almost down to waist level before firing. The jab is quite questionably amiss from Faber’s arsenal and he uniquely keys his (rather limited) strike selection off his right hand in varying degrees: usually overhands, uppercuts and hooks. Since the jab is a crucial tool for controlling the range and setting up advancements, Faber has compensated for its absence with unparalleled agility and quickness when shrinking the gap.
While that skill is a tribute to his athleticism and gameness, it not only leaves Faber without an effective distance weapon but makes him somewhat predictable in engagements — which leads to the next section.
2) Rushes in without head movement or a jab
Abstaining from the jab is is an optional but risky approach. Lacking head movement can never be spun as a positive in any context and stands as a pivotal flaw in most of Faber’s defeats — namely his TKO loss to Brown. Now, when you add in the elements of his right-hand preference, no jab or long-range tools and closing range frenetically without avid head movement, Faber’s predictability drastically increases and his options dwindle.
In plain terms, this plays out in a repetitive pattern: Faber leaps into range with some form of right-hand attack and his head in a similar position each time, or he’s out on the fringe and not posing a viable threat because he lacks a distance weapon. Barring the range factor, Cruz, who isn’t a distance threat himself, relied on his cryptic movement to cut angles and bore counters through Faber’s defense, punishing him for his predictable entrances and strike selection.
Jack’s 3rd and final criticism accounts for the cumulative effect of parts 1 and 2, and all those parts as a whole were exploited in full by featherweight’s ultimate striker.
3) Stands in range of his opponents but outside of his own range
Without any legitimate ammunition from the striking perimeter, Faber becomes susceptible to fighters with range, and there is no better example than the leg-kick clinic that Aldo treated him to. The featherweight champion’s kicks and boxing are rock-solid, his head movement and footwork are excellent and these skills combined thoroughly exposed the hazards of Faber’s tendencies when trying to close distance.
This is the perfect segue to Jack’s follow up analysis of Barao and how he compares to Aldo, who laid out the perfect blueprint to unhinge Faber.
- Renan Barao’s excellent jab and Jose Aldo’s distaste for this weapon
- Renan Barao’s sloppy head movement and defense in exchanges
- The similarities and disparities in kicking technique
1) Renan Barao’s excellent jab and Jose Aldo’s distaste for this weapon
Barao has a distance tool just like Aldo, but he employs the jab instead of kicks, which brings about a different set of variables. The jab offers less power and more precision and control than Aldo’s whirlwind of kicks, but also puts the head and body deeper in the pocket and thus closer to the opponent.
Since Faber’s intentions are to rush into range, this translates to Barao presenting more options for Faber to latch onto in transitions; his head is a closer target for Faber’s punches, his trunk and upper body are more accessible and both feet are planted and reachable by changing levels and penetrating with takedowns. To summarize, sailing a blistering low kick offers little to an opponent trying to shrink the gap whereas the jab is a more ideal scenario for Faber’s approach to be effective. Especially when considering the next segment:
2) Renan Barao’s sloppy head movement and defense in exchanges
Sharing this detriment with Faber, Barao is rather lackadaisical with his head movement and therefore a more predictable target. While I believe his mediocre defense is more a function of being offensively-focused with a strong chin, the end result is eating punches from high-paced strikers who employ angles … and Faber fits that billing.
On the same token, Barao is a deadly offensive striker and the game-plan of barreling into range and beheading him with right hands is easier said than done. To do so, one must enter his wheelhouse, which is the worst possible range to engage him. That leaves the far-end of the striking bubble, where Jack’s observations about Barao’s kicking tendencies come into play.
3) The similarities and disparities in kicking technique
Jose Aldo’s kicks are often set up with combinations, most obviously the 2 – 3 – low kick (right straight, left hook to the body, low kick) that he utilizes in almost every round of every fight he enters. Aldo is so effective with this technique, threatening three levels of the opponent, that he can simply use it over and over against most opponents.
Renan Barao, on the other hand, does NOT set up his kicks well. He kicks from his stance almost exclusively and, while he has yet to get in trouble for it, the openings are obvious. Watch as here, against Scott Jorgensen, he throws a low kick from far too close in, without a set up, and almost gets countered.
Most of Barao’s kicks are single-thrown with little to no set up, and typically of the spinning variety. This is an entirely different weapon than Aldo’s brutal roundhouse kicks after a crisp punching combination. Not only does the lack of set up make the kick easier to read, defend and counter, but spinning kicks leave the thrower exorbitantly more vulnerable because of the reduced balance and vision and increased travel compared to a straight or roundhouse kick.
Of course, the easy conclusion is that Barao’s distance weapon requires more time to uncork, it’s easier to counter off and it leaves him more vulnerable to takedowns. The overall summation is that Barao’s subtle differences in striking are not as finely tuned for Faber’s style when compared to Aldo.
Beyond the striking, it’s Faber’s trusty transition game that should dictate the pace and outcome — though most of that will transpire in the chess match of how well he shrinks the gap, mixes up his strike selection and moves his head. Barao will be tasked with stifling Faber’s relentless advances with close-quarters trading and evasive movement and how (or if) he chooses to attack Faber on the fringe.
Faber is much more accredited as a wrestler but there’s a reason that Barao has rarely been on his back in the big leagues. His counter-wrestling, scrambling and transitions are phenomenal, and his submission stockpile is vast whereas Faber’s submission strength comes mostly in top-side catches like guillotines and rear-naked chokes. Barao’s also been difficult to contain due to his diverse guard and library of sweeps, escapes and submissions.
Though he might not be as ideally suited as Aldo, I like Barao’s full assortment of tighter striking, adequate counter wrestling and elite guard game over Faber’s blinding barrage of right hands and takedown attempts. Since the dynamics of closing distance will determine Faber’s success in all other categories, Barao’s edge in that department and his (perceived) comparability in the battle for takedowns and superior submission skills earn him my vote.
My Prediction: Renan Barao by decision.
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