Urijah Faber is one of the biggest names in the 135-pound division let alone the UFC. So why is the former WEC star and No. 2-ranked bantamweight a +150 underdog against a relatively unknown opponent?
Faber’s foe at UFC 149 in Calgary, Alberta Saturday is Brazilian Renan Barao, a 25-year-old, beyond-his-years fighter who cut his teeth in WEC and other smaller promotions before making the jump to the UFC in 2011.
Barao, a -190 favorite Saturday, has quietly climbed the MMA ranks and brings an impressive 29-fight undefeated streak into this weekend’s bantamweight interim title bout. Outside of hardcore fight fans, the black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a bit of a mystery.
“Barao is good. His record speaks for itself,” renowned MMA oddsmaker Joey Oddessa told Covers. “Barao got all the early money.”
Barao has blossomed since debuting in the UFC in May 2011, defeating his last three opponents and earning a shot at the interim 135-pound championship thanks to a rash of injuries that plagued the original card.
Current bantamweight title holder, Dominick Cruz, was Faber’s initial opponent, concluding what would have been an exciting trilogy. However, Cruz suffered a knee injury and opportunity came knocking on Barao’s door.
"I feel fine, I feel comfortable and I'll be ready for Saturday," Barao told reporters through an interpreter. "I've been working very hard for such a long time. I'm very happy and grateful for this opportunity and I’ll make the most of it."
Fans who have followed Barao’s rise in the sport believe UFC 149 will be his breakout fight and the first step toward a great UFC career. Many experts are comparing his path to that of teammate and training partner Jose Aldo, who defeated Faber in a WEC featherweight title bout in 2010.
“People say Barao trains with Jose Aldo. Well, a lot of guys have trained with George St-Pierre. It doesn't always make a guy a world beater,” says Oddessa. “If he beats Faber Saturday and convincingly, he will be on same path as Aldo and he will start making some career life-changing money.”
To do so, he’ll need to overcome one of the best bantamweight fighters in the history of the sport. Faber is a dangerous submission threat, having forced nearly half of his opponents to tap out en route to a 26-5 (7 KOs, 14 submissions) professional record.
“Several analysts and fighters have picked a Faber win but his status as a near 2-1 underdog has held steady,” says Oddessa. “Faber’s been around long enough that Barao knows what to expect from him.”
UFC 149 leans
Urijah Faber (+150) vs. Renan Barao (-190)
I expect the price to come down a bit on Barao the closer fight fans get to the main event. Faber will likely have the Canadian crowd on his side but this is Barao’s big break in the UFC, something that isn’t lost on him.
Hector Lombard (-335) vs. Tim Boetsch (+250)
Boetsch has shown how dangerous a striker he can be with a KO of Yushin Okami at UFC 144. He was originally set to face Michael Bisping, but gets thrown to the MMA wolves against Lombard, who carries a 25-fight unbeaten streak. However, fighters from outside promotions have struggled with transitions to the UFC. Flyer on Boetsch or stear clear of the heavy chalk.
Cheick Kongo (+105) vs. Shawn Jordan (-130)
I’ve never been sold on Kongo. He was originally set to face Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira in a name-power bout, but now it looks like he may be used to give Jordan a push in a lackluster heavyweight division.
Brian Ebersole (-400) vs. James Head (+310)
Ebersole is another replacement fighter – kind of a theme for UFC 149 – taking the place of Canadian Claude Patrick, who he defeated at UFC 140. If you subscribe to “MMA Math”, Erbersole looks like a lock. But, if you subscribe to not wasting money on juiced-up odds, leave this one alone.
Chris Clements (+135) vs. Matt Riddle (-160)
Canadian fighters are just 4-9 on the main card when competing on home soil – and three of those four wins have come from St-Pierre.