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
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.
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.