Bums, has-beens and quasi-prospects are what you normally expect from a UFC on Fuel Card - it’s just de-rigueur. But no more.
For the first time, a belt will be contested at UFC on Fuel 7 this coming Saturday as Renan Barao takes on Michael McDonald for the UFC Interim Bantamweight title. If that wasn’t enough, the not-so-sunny shores of England will also play host to a co-feature starring featherweight contenders Cub Swanson and Dustin Poirier.
Renan Barao - Michael McDonald
In a sport where losses are not only common but expected from time to time, Barao’s [29-1] 29 fight winning streak is ridiculous. He’s probably forgotten the word at this point. But the fact of the matter is that until Dominick Cruz comes back from injury (which might be awhile yet); the Brazilian will have to keep on fending off challengers to his own uber-challenger status. His last victory came against Urijah Faber at UFC 149 in a dominating fashion, where Barao controlled his opponent with solid defense and exquisite distance. But now Barao has to face rising star McDonald, [15-1] who is coming off a more than impressive victory against Miguel Torres at UFC 145.
The real thing to consider here is how much further has McDonald moved on from prospect status to being a legitimate contender? While Barao can count amongst his 29 victims established fighters like Scott Jorgensen and Brad Pickett, McDonald’s resume is light, to say the least. Names like Chris Cariaso and Alex Soto just don’t stack up. With an elite wrestling game in his locker Barao will be tough to unpick for McDonald. McDonald will have hope that his genuinely powerful strikes will be able to find a home because attempts at takedowns will prove futile as the Faber fight proved. Barao in the meantime will be safe in the knowledge that while he might not be as powerful or accurate as his counterpart he’ll certainly win in the volume department.
For McDonald to win he’ll need to pull out the best performance of his career thus far, which as a prospect is something that’s expected each time. For Barao it will need to be efficient business as usual.
Cub Swanson - Dustin Poirier
The matchup between Swanson and Poirier could not be more appropriate as a co-feature. Both were seemingly on a roll to title contention, suffered setbacks and then proceeded to get back on belt destined wagons.
For Swanson, the defeat to Ricardo Lamas in his UFC debut seemed to have been a blessing because he’s preceded to blitzkrieg his last three opponents with devastating knockouts including durable chaps such as Ross Pearson and Charles Oliveira.
For Poirier meanwhile, the defeat to Chan Sun Jung at UFC on Fuel TV 3 seems to be behind him after securing a win against Jonathan Brooks at the Ultimate Fighter 16 finale. Poirier might be the replacement for Dan Siver who was originally scheduled to take on Swanson, but that does not diminish the prospect of this being a good fight. Both guys are noted for their aggression and with Swanson’s boxing ability there might be some exciting exchanges in the pocket before matters perhaps get settled on the mat. Either way a fine appetizer for the belt filled main course.
Igor Guryashkin is a freelance journalist whose extensive work on combat sports has been featured in ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. He splits his time between New York and Louisville. Follow him on Twitter @IGuryashkinESPN.