by Anthony Springer Jr
The UFC returns to Fuel Saturday with a deceptively deep card headlined by two of its rising young stars going head to head in a bantamweight title showdown. Interim champion Renan (pronounced Hen-in) Barao squares off with Michael McDonald. Hardcore MMA fans have been aware of Barao for a while, but the casual fan may have caught wind of him after his dismantling of Urijah Faber last year when current division champion Dominick Cruz was sideline with an injury. Barao claimed a lopsided division win and sits atop the division while awaiting Cruz’ return. McDonald raised his profile after knocking out former WEC 135-pound kingpin Miguel Torres. Despite its placement on Fuel TV, UFC on Fuel 7 is nothing short of quality. Let’s take a look at the headlining matchups.
Renan Barao vs. Michael McDonald (Bantamweight Title Bout)
No matter who comes out on top, both men are destined for long, successful careers barring unforeseen injury. Renan Barao (29-1, 1 NC) blitzed the WEC/UFC’s bantamweight ranks, racking up five straight wins before snaring the title last July. The 25-year-old knows nothing but winning and only tasted defeat in his first professional bout in 2005. Since then, he’s become a complete fighter who’s almost equally capable of finishing the fight with strikes , submissions or riding a wave to a decision win.
McDonald (15-1) on the other hand is chasing destiny. If he’s victorious, he’ll become the youngest champion in UFC history (Current lightweight champion Jon Jones was 23 when he won the crown, McDonald is 22).
The length of this fight is going to be everything. Don’t look for McDonald to steamroll Barao the way he did Torres. The young slugger has gone to decision just once in his career and with 25 long minutes, Barao is likely going to take this into deep waters and drown his challenger. Barao retains his title via decision win.
Cub Swanson vs. Dustin Poirier
If you’re a betting man, put your funds on a knockout in this featherweight tilt. Swanson (18-5) is on a three fight streak with all wins coming by (T)KO. Poirier (13-2) owns five (T)KO finishes and six submission wins and doesn’t mind slugging it out with an opponent. Once thought to be at the top of the division, an exciting loss to Chan Sung Jung knocked him a few pegs down the ladder. While “The Diamond” may be looking to seize the opportunity, Swanson is on a hot streak right now. As long as he can keep the fight standing – which is no easy task – the fight is his. Swanson via knockout.
Jimi Manuwa vs. Cyrille Diabate
If you read the following two names and thought, “Who?,” count yourself among the majority. What you need to know is that Manuwa (12-0) and Diabate (19-8-1) have 19 striking finishes between them. Diabate has only been knocked out once and Manuwa has never gone the distance. Diabate takes an exciting decision win.
Gunnar Nelson vs. Jorge Santiago
Expectations will be high for Nelson (10-0-1) when he meets veteran Jorge Santiago (28-10). Santiago is a game opponent, but making his welterweight debut (down from middleweight) against a guy like Nelson is no easy task. Santiago will go all out early, but Nelson should win this one by decision and prove he’s the real deal.
James Te Huna vs. Ryan Jimmo
Jimmo (17-1) relies a lot on clinch work, which doesn’t necessarily separate him from the crowded light heavyweight pack, but it earns enough points to get the W when a bout goes to the judges. Te Huna’s (15-5) task will be keeping his distance as most of his wins come by KO. That likely won’t happen as Jimmo doesn’t know much about losing. Watch for him to smother Te Huna en route to a decision win.
Matt Riddle vs. Che Mills
With the exception of a thrashing at the hands of Rory MacDonald, Che Mills (15-1, 1 NC) has won six of his last seven. Matt Riddle on the other hand, has had a rocky road in the UFC and boasts a 7-3 (1 NC) record. If not for the no contest (which happened after Riddle tested positive for marijuana), he’d be riding a three fight win streak into this bout with Mills. Though Mills is the more technical striker, Riddle is wild and as tough as nails. If he doesn’t finish Mills in highlight reel fashion, Riddle will grind out a decision.
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Coming up next: UFC on Fuel TV: Barao vs. McDonald is live from London on Saturday, February 16 at 12 PM PT / 3 PM ET. Click here for more info
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