Why Renan Barao Needs a Great Fight on His Resume
Posted by Robert Winfree on 05.23.2014
411's Robert Winfree examines just how important having a great fight is to fighters and their ability to draw money for the promotion, and explains why UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao needs a great fight on his resume!
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UFC 173 comes to you live this Saturday, incidentally I'll have your live coverage here at 411mania, and is headlined by one of the best fighters on the planet. UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao will be defending his title against TJ Dillashaw. Barao has some of the most impressive statistics in the game today, his average significant strikes per minute average is 3.7 while the UFC average is 2.6 and hasn't lost a fight since his professional debut back in 2005. His winning streak is longer than the career of Khabib Nurmagomedov, in fact his winning streak stacks up comparably with that of Fedor Emelianenko. Sadly, numbers and statistics are not going to sell a fighter on their own. Impressive stats are a garnish, the icing on the cake, not the substance. You can find statistics that are impressive about virtually any fighter on the UFC roster, and the UFC does routinely use numbers regarding takedowns, fight time, strikes, basically everything under the sun to try and improve the stature of whoever happens to be walking to the octagon. Renan Barao hasn't been taken down at all during his UFC tenure, has finished four of his last five fights, and hasn't come remotely close to losing in years. Unfortunately Barao has a few strikes against him as well, the reality is that in MMA lower weight classes struggle to capture the attention and imagination of more casual fans, he doesn't speak English, and the unfortunate situation regarding former champion Dominick Cruz and the interim title becoming the real title, these are all setbacks. I could talk about these issues, but the reality is that people have done so already, generally better than I could, but Barao is missing another crucial element to becoming a big deal, a great fight.
Great fights are still something of an enigma, and can inspire heated debate. How do you compare the fight between Mark Hunt and Antonio Silva to something like the first clash between Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler? The two fights are about as different as you can be, yet both would fall into the category of "great fights". A great fighter, more specifically a UFC champion and draw for the company, has at least one great fight on their resume. A fight that, for whatever reason, captures the imagination and emotion of the audience. Consider possibly the greatest fighter of all time, Anderson Silva. Silva debuted in the UFC by obliterating Chris Leben with counter punches and knees in less than one minute. He followed that by crushing Rich Franklin from the Thai clinch in the first round to become the middleweight champion. Silva went on to have the best UFC tenure of any fighter, his list of records, accolades, and the incredible moments he provided will live for a long time. Yet Silva failed to capture the attention of the paying audience. Prior to August of 2010 Silva struggled to draw PPV numbers when placed in that position alone. When paired with another proven drawing fight, such as Tito Ortiz taking on Rashad Evans at UFC 73 or the long awaited fight between Chuck Liddell and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 97, but an event sold exclusively on Silva and his opponent, such as UFC 82, weren't drawing big numbers on PPV. That changed following UFC 117. At UFC 117 Anderson Silva stepped into the octagon and fought Chael Sonnen. For twenty three minutes Anderson Silva was taken down, smothered, and battered by the out spoken challenger before grabbing a triangle arm bar at the almost literal last minute and forcing the submission. The thing about that fight is that it isn't terribly exciting. Showing that fight to someone who had never seen an MMA fight, or either of those fighters, is an odd experience because the context is so important. Despite needing to know the context, that fight is considered a great fight. Silva followed that up by front kicking Vitor Belfort in the face and only dipped below 400k buys once, when he fought Yushin Okami. Prior to August of 2010 Anderson Silva had the pedigree, the accomplishments, the skills, and the highlight reel. After UFC 117, he had a great fight, and he had the attention of the paying audience.
Urijah Faber is another fighter who had a great fight that catapulted him into the spotlight. Coming into June of 2008 Faber was a fighter who was talked about by hardcore fans. Faber was the former King of the Cage bantamweight champion, a title he vacated, and was running great as the WEC featherweight champion. He had just one loss on his record, a TKO at lightweight to Tyson Griffin who was a borderline contender to the UFC lightweight title in 2008, and had finished every opponent who had stepped across from him in the WEC promotion. When Zuffa, the parent company of the UFC, bought WEC in 2006 the door opened for some smaller lightweight fighters to drop down to featherweight or bantamweight. On June 1 2008 Urijah Faber put his title and impressive winning streak on the line against former UFC lightweight champion Jens Pulver. Pulver had fought at featherweight before, and was in fact undefeated when competing at that weight, and was coming off of a high profile stint coaching the fifth season of The Ultimate Fighter opposite BJ Penn. Faber defeated Pulver in a great fight, while Faber won every round and was so dominant at points that two of the judges gave him a 10-8 round, the fight moved Faber into a larger spotlight. Faber lost the featherweight title in his next bout and hasn't been a champion since, but his skills and profile mean he's never out of the title picture for long.
Great fights are almost impossible to define, some are displays of toughness, some skill, some fights are boosted by a loud and involved crowd, some require knowledge of the fighters, or knowing history between two specific fighters. Some are predicted, others materialize from a fight that no one cared about and was placed on the preliminary portion of a card. Whatever mercurial combination of circumstances leads to the creation of a "great fight", anyone who draws money for the UFC has to have at least one of them to their credit. Will Renan Barao add a "great fight" to his impeccable resume when he steps into the cage against TJ Dillashaw this Saturday?
Robert Winfree is a libra, a long time contributor in the MMA section of 411mania.com, current live coverage guru for the same site, and host of the weekly 411 Ground and Pound radio show every Sunday at 8pm eastern standard time