Renan Barão walked out of the octagon wearing a championship belt Saturday night.
But he should be well aware, being a friend and training partner of UFC featherweight champ José Aldo, that the strap he had secured around his waist after winning a lopsided decision over Urijah Faber in the main event of UFC 149 in Calgary, Alberta, is not really a championship belt. It's an interim championship belt, which means it's merely a ticket, gaining him admission to the octagon to challenge Dominick Cruz once the true bantamweight champion heals from knee surgery.
Still, after the decision was read -- one judge gave Barão all five rounds and the other two awarded him four of the five -- the Brazilian jumped around the cage, screaming, as though he'd just drank from the interim World Cup. It's understandable. He's a 25-year-old who, in running his unbeaten streak to 30 fights, had just scored the biggest win of his career. So far.
Barão (29-1, one no contest) was in control from the start, keeping Faber (26-6) at a distance and never allowing him to get into the fight. The former WEC featherweight champ, who failed to dethrone Cruz when they met last summer and was scheduled for a rematch before the champ injured a knee in training, had a bit of success with overhand rights, but the punches were thrown from the outside with little oomph behind them. So even when they connected solidly, Barão took the punch and stood his ground.
Faber, on the other hand, was sent reeling backward by several of Renan's leg and body kicks, one of which Urijah reported might have broke a rib early in the fight. The FightMetric significant strike statistics favored the Brazilian by 85 to 60, and the disparity only grew if you factored in the impact of those strikes.
"I knew Faber was a great athlete, a great fighter," said Barão after he'd come down from floating, overjoyed, up near the ceiling, "but I came very prepared."
Indeed he did. Training with Aldo, who battered Faber's lead leg with kicks during their 2010 fight, Barão had had a strategy drilled into him. Nearly a quarter of his significant strikes were to the legs, and Faber was limping before the fight was over. He also was cautious about moving forward, even after it became apparent that he would need a stoppage to have his hand raised.
"I knew he was really good at keeping distance," said Faber.
And in so doing, Barão closed the distance between himself and a championship. A real one.
The same could not be said for Hector Lombard.
The former Bellator middleweight champion had everything set up perfectly for his UFC debut. A 2000 Cuban-Olympic judoka, he had won 11-straight fights and was considered a possible challenger for champion Anderson Silva. And when the weight division's No. 1 contender Mark Muñoz was upset by Chris Weidman less than two weeks ago, Lombard's stock rose without him having thrown a punch. If he were to beat Tim Boetsch impressively, his second UFC bout might for the belt.
But Lombard (31-3-1, one no contest) simply didn't seize the opportunity. Known for explosive aggression, he stood flatfooted for the better part of three rounds, allowing the slightly more active Boetsch (16-4) to win largely uneventful rounds in taking a split-decision victory and scuttling any plans the UFC might have had for Lombard to challenge Silva.
The big winner -- probably even more than Boetsch, who did elevate his status with the win but was not exactly exhilarating in doing so -- was Weidman, whose second-round destruction of Muñoz puts him on the top rung of the middleweight ladder. If Silva wants a fight soon, the Long Island, N.Y., fighter would seem the most deserving challenger. If "The Spider" chooses to take a nice cruise with his buddy from West Linn, Ore., then Weidman might end up in the cage with Boetsch or Alan Belcher. Michael Bisping and Brian Stann would love to work their way back into the mix. And what of Chael Sonnen?
But no matter how closely you study the UFC middleweight picture, nowhere will you see Hector Lombard.
"It's the unfortunate thing about hype," UFC president Dana White said at the post-fight news conference. "When there's a lot of hype behind you and you don't live up to it, it goes away real quick."