The venue for Saturday night's UFC 149 in Calgary, Alberta, is the 20,000-seat Saddledome. It might as well be Foothills Medical Centre, the Canadian city's 1,000-bed hospital.
The main event was to feature featherweight champion Jose Aldo. Former interim heavyweight champ Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira also was to be on the card, as was former light heavyweight belt holder Mauricio Rua. Perennial top middleweight contender Michael Bisping was scheduled, as were both of the UFC's Thiagos, welterweight Alves and light heavy Silva.
All of them and several others are in the UFC infirmary, however, injuries having canceled their travel plans to the eastern foothills of the Canadian Rockies. Actually, "Shogun" Rua isn't hurt; he was pulled from the event when his opponent, Silva, was sent to sick bay.
"This is the winner," UFC president Dana White told reporters last week. "We lost nine [fights] to injury and we had to move two other fights, so I would say yes, this is the craziest card of all time."
So what are we left with? A main event in which former WEC featherweight titlist Urijah Faber will take his second shot at the UFC bantamweight belt. Sort of. He originally was scheduled to go for the real thing a couple of weekends ago in Las Vegas, but when 135-pound champ Dominick Cruz, who coached against Faber on the most recent season of The Ultimate Fighter, injured his knee in training, "The California Kid" (26-5) was shifted onto Saturday's card and into the octagon with streaking young star Renan Barão (28-1, one no contest) in an interim title bout (10 p.m. ET, PPV).
Yeah, the Calgary fans' first live glimpse of a UFC main event will be for that inconsequential piece of hardware known as an interim belt. But don't cry for them. They're getting to see what could turn out to be the coming-out party for a Brazilian who has gone undefeated in his last 29 fights. His given name is Renan Mota do Nascimento Pegado, but like many of his countrymen he's adopted a different surname: Barão, which translates from the Portuguese as "baron" or "count."
I suppose that's the level of bantam royalty he would achieve if he wins the interim championship Saturday night. But along with the faux belt he'd get a shot at Cruz, and if he were to beat the true king of the division down the road, perhaps the 25-year-old would commence fighting under the name "Renan Rei."
Barão, who despite having not lost since his pro debut back in 2005, is nowhere remotely close to being the household name Faber is and recognizes the opportunity he has in front of him in his first UFC main event. "I think I'm just not as well known by the American public," he said last week. "It's not a problem for me. It doesn't offend me or anything. I think where I need to show my skills and become known by them is up inside the octagon, and for sure I'm going to have my chance to do that in Calgary and show you guys everything that I have. ... I hope to leave the fans a fight to remember."
Um, Renan, you might want to remember one small thing yourself: When hyping a fight in Calgary, you're not going to endear yourself to the locals by referring to the American public. Then again, give them a highlight-reel performance, and all will be forgiven.
That's exactly the kind of performance Faber is expecting out of Barão. He is disappointed to not be getting his rubber match with Cruz, whom he handed his only loss when Dominick challenged for his featherweight belt in 2007, and who turned the tables by fending off Urijah's bantamweight challenge last summer. But Faber is by no means expecting a lesser fight.
"This matchup is two guys that are finishers," he said during last week's media conference call. "We're both big for the weight class. We both like to fight. I feel like Dominick tries to win more than he is trying to beat someone up. And Barão and I are the type of guys who like to beat each other up and try to win, so it's going to be a knock-down, drag-out. And that's what I like."
He's not alone. Despite all of the 911 calls, ins and outs and other false starts, if Faber and Barão deliver on their promise, UFC 149 will look like the picture of health in the sport's history books.
14: Submissions among his 26 career victories, including subs in four of his last five wins.
0: Defeats in fights not for a UFC or WEC championship. After losing his WEC featherweight belt to Mike Brown in 2008 and dropping a rematch the next year, he unsuccessfully challenged José Aldo for the title in 2010 and, after moving down to bantamweight, fell to Dominick Cruz last summer.
6: Bonuses awarded for Fight (two) or Submission (four) of the Night following his last 10 fights.
29: Consecutive bouts without a defeat. Since losing his MMA debut in 2005, he has won every fight other than a 2007 no contest.
93: Percent of takedowns defended, as impressive a number as his 78 percent takedown accuracy. (Faber gets takedowns at a 32 percent clip, by contrast, and defends at 58 percent.)
5: Fights, of his 30, that have been outside of Brazil. They're his most recent, since joining the WEC two years ago.
What we should expect: I actually think Faber showed insight in summing it up this fight above. If he were facing Dominick Cruz, we'd be in for a long night of fast movement, a tactical game of Catch Me If You Can that would have drama only if Urijah were to somehow catch the champ. But we don't have to wish for the improbable to happen in this fight. Faber and Barão share the kind of explosiveness that could make for a short night for one of them or a memorable night for fans.
Why we should care: OK, so it's not for the real belt, just an interim one made out of tin foil rather than brass. But there is something at stake here. Barão is finally in front of the stage lights, and a win over Faber -- especially an exhilarating one -- would give his challenge of Cruz some juice. Faber needs something from the juice aisle, too. Even though he's 1-1 with Dominick, he clearly was the second-best man in the cage when he and Cruz met last summer. Wrecking Barão and his streak would allow Urijah to again live up to the name of his Alpha Male team.
"Renan is very well-rounded. I would say 99 percent of the guys that get these titles are very well-rounded. I think probably the thing he has going for him is just the confidence in coming off the 29 wins. He's human just like anyone else. That long streak is going to come to an end, and I'm the one to do it."--Urijah Faber, during a conference call with MMA media last week
"I've watched Urijah for years. He's not a fighter I'm unfamiliar with. I think his strong points are his takedowns, and he's got some nasty elbows I'll have to watch out for. It's an honor to be fighting him."--Brenan Barão during the same conference call
"The thing that is really going to be something to watch out for: those high knees and leg kicks. You train with Jose Aldo, so expect those leg kicks coming out. He's got great wrestling for a Brazilian -- you know, the Brazilian fighters, a lot of them lack in wrestling. He doesn't lack in wrestling, but I feel like I'm the better wrestler. He's pretty fast, but I feel that I'm faster. He's going to be strong; I think I'm going to be stronger. ... I'll be aware of the weapons that he has but ready to outclass him every which way."--Faber
Express elevator going up: Like Renan Barão, middleweight Hector Lombard is on quite the run. He's unbeaten in his last 25 fights, dating to 2006. However, none of those fights were in the UFC, so what do we have here? We're about to find out, as the 2000 Olympic judoka from Cuba will face Tim Boetsch, who's coming off a heart-thumping upset of Yushin Okami.
This co-main event is actually the perfect set-up for Lombard. Fans don't remember the Boetsch who was dominated by Okami for two rounds; they remember the one who wobbled Yushin with a desperate, fight-changing uppercut, then quickly -- and shockingly -- finished the job.
Lombard signed on to fight both of those Tims, of course, but if he has the grit to put away the beatable one, he might not have to worry about Mr. Dangerous. And considering the state of the middleweight division in the wake of Chris Weidman's short-circuiting of No. 1 contender Mark Muñoz last week, an impressive victory in his UFC debut might very well propel Lombard into a title fight with Anderson Silva.
I'm not sure a win over Tim Boetsch should qualify someone for a shot at the strap, but marketing being what it is, a mystery man on a huge winning streak might be the Silva challenger the UFC brass will think it can sell. We'll see.