UFC 149: What’s next for Renan Barao and Sunday’s winners?
Now that Renan Barao has emerged from UFC 149 as the interim bantamweight champion, the biggest question swirling around the division is whether the Brazilian will defend the title or wait for injured champion Dominick Cruz.
It’s an interesting debate that makes sense from both sides: I know why Barao wants to wait for Cruz, but I can also completely understand why Dana White and the UFC would like the Nova Uniao product to continue fighting while Cruz is sidelined.
The ones who might help sway things one way or the other are the fans.
White and the UFC have done a good job of listening to what their consumers want – as much as they can – and if enough people push to see the new interim champion continue to defend the belt, we could see the UFC work to get Barao back in the cage, rather than allowing him to go on hiatus.
Personally, I think Barao should defend the title, which would make Michael McDonald my pick for his next opponent.
The 21-year-old Californian is coming off a first-round knockout win over former WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Torres, a victory that pushed his overall winning streak to eight, the last four of those wins having come inside the UFC Octagon.
McDonald has been tabbed as one of the future leaders of the organization, and a fighter who could blossom into a tremendous star in the future.
With the momentum he has coming out of the Torres fight, and looking at the possible who else there is out there for him to fight, this is the best option for him.
For Barao, it’s the best fight out there for him at the moment, and considering his victory over Faber is getting overshadowed by the challenging bouts that came before it on the weekend, this is an opportunity to erase that memory, pair with a tremendous emerging talent, and put on a potentially great fight.
That being said, I wholly expect Barao to hold out for Cruz.
While his potential bout with “The Dominator” doesn’t have the same shine or massive pay-per-view potential as Carlos Condit’s upcoming meeting with Georges St-Pierre, Cruz is the biggest name and biggest fight out there in the bantamweight division; a chance to headline a pay-per-view and attempt to unify the titles.
Here are my thoughts on who the rest of the UFC 149 main card winners should fight next.
Next Opponent: Michael Bisping/Brian Stann winner
Having knocked off Yushin Okami and Hector Lombard in back-to-back fights, Boetsch is in a position where one more good win should earn him a title shot. The winner of the Bisping/Stann fight will be in a similar position, despite having fewer victories than Boetsch or Alan Belcher.
Bisping seems to think that a dominant victory over Stann will secure him a championship bout with Anderson Silva, and while that could end up happening, I really think the better decision is to (1) move forward with Chris Weidman facing Silva, and (2) set-up a bout between Bisping and Boetsch if “The Count” comes out of UFC 152 with his hand raised.
If Stann pulls the upset in Toronto this September, he too will need one more quality victory before being considered a title contender, and Boetsch would fit the bill.
Next Opponent: Daniel Cormier
No, this isn’t going to happen, but a boy can dream, can’t he? Cormier, the Strikeforce World Heavyweight Grand Prix winner, is fighting in September, but doesn’t have an opponent named yet.
Shifting someone like Kongo over to be his final challenge before moving to the UFC would make far more sense than bringing in a fighter who has been outside of both organizations this entire time, but that would make too much sense.
As such, my more realistic guess for who Kongo will face next is the winner of the upcoming tilt between Stefan Struve and Stipe Miocic in Nottingham.
Both have built solid win streaks on the fringes of contention, and the winner would be on the cusp of contending. That makes pairing them off with the heavyweight division’s long-time gatekeeper the easy call.
Kongo has some injuries to rehab before he fights again, so the timing of this one would work as well. Struve and Miocic don’t fight until the end of September, giving Kongo two months to heal up now, and another three or four on top of that before the winner of this one is ready to go again.
Next Opponent: Mike Pierce
Head showed good takedown defense in earning a decision win over Brian Ebersole on the weekend. The former middleweight has now won back-to-back bouts since moving down a division, and is a big, strong, brick-thick addition to the 170-pound ranks.
Here’s the thing: there are a lot of those guys competing at welterweight, and it makes a lot of sense for the UFC to match some of them up together so there aren’t 17 big, strong, wrestlers all moving forward at the same time.
Enter Pierce, a longer tenured big, strong wrestler who has a couple good wins under this belt, and is coming off a dominate performance against Carlos Eduardo Rocha in June. He’s 6-3 in the UFC thus far, having lost to championship contenders Jon Fitch, Johny Hendricks, and Josh Koscheck, which makes him a solid middle-tier gatekeeper.
Head looks like he has some potential in his new weight class, but a win over Papy Abedi and the shrinking, short notice version of Brian Ebersole isn’t a big enough sample size to know for sure. A win over Pierce would confirm him as a quality entry into the 170-pound ranks.
Next Opponent: Dan Hardy winner
After Riddle’s hilarious rant regarding his experience of getting spat at by English UFC fans in Manchester, Dana White all but agreed to pairing Riddle with Hardy.
The other fight could be against the winner of Swick and Johnson.
Swick is a veteran coming back after being away for more than two years due to injuries and mysterious ailments that almost derailed his career entirely. Johnson is a fellow TUF alum like Riddle, and despite having an inconsistent career in the UFC thus far, a win over Swick ups his profile, and puts him in a very similar position as Riddle.
Both guys – Swick and Johnson – are recognizable names that can be paired with Riddle as part of a television card with ease, and that’s where all three of these athletes fit right now.
Follow The Roar’s UFC Expert E. Spencer Kyte on Twitter (@spencerkyte).
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