UFC 169 February 1, 2014 Bantamweight Championship Matchup: Renan Barao vs. Urijah Faber By Reed Kuhn, @Fightnomics Big Picture: With Dominick Cruz having to relinquish the Bantamweight title due to successive injuries, Renan Barao is now the undisputed Bantamweight champion of the world. And just in time for his first “real” title defense, Urijah Faber is coming off four straight wins including three finishes. Faber hasn’t lost since July of 2012 when he faced Barao the first time for the interim title, and Faber has been the more active fighter since. But “The California Kid’s” reputation has changed since his days as the champion star of the WEC, as more recent fans know him as the guy who keeps earning title shots only to fall short. Champion Renan Barao is currently solid -280 favorite over number one-ranked challenger Faber, who sits at +240. It could be the last shot at UFC gold for Faber, a perennial fan favorite and crossover star. But defending champions have defended their title more than 80 percent of the time in recent years. What do the numbers say about how these two stack up? They have faced off before, so we’ll have to account for that in our analysis. Here’s how it shakes out. Summary Stats:
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Tale of Tape Matchup: The Tale of Tape only reveals one big differential, and that’s age. Renan Barao is part of the new breed of mixed martial artist that is well-rounded and has competed in the sport from a young age. He’s not trying his hand at MMA because he his career in football or wrestling didn’t work out, he’s been an MMA killer since his teens. After losing his professional debut, Barao’s now undefeated in 32 straight fights (1 NC) since 2005, and all that by the age of 26. On the flipside, “The California Kid” Urijah Faber is no longer a kid. In fact, at 34.7 years old Faber is the oldest fighter competing on the UFC 169 card. Yes, even older than Frank Mir. Back in the year 2005 when Barao was making his pro debut, Faber was tapping out Charles “Crazy Horse” Bennett to move to 10-1 and on his way to securing multiple titles in parallel in King of the Cage and the WEC. Faber’s age and experience may leave him more vulnerable to a flash knockdowns, but it also gives him a wealth of experience that has helped him survive title losses in the past, including four straight championship fights that he forced to the cards. Striking Matchup: The striking matchup on paper reveals how the first Barao-Faber fight went down. Despite being slightly more accurate than Barao, Faber tends to look for counters or precisely timed bursts, but fails to dictate the pace of the fight or control the cage in the long run. Faber historically has only thrown 80 percent of the total volume that his opponents threw. Barao on the other hand, maintains a markedly superior pace to his opponents, outworking them by 40 percent in volume while standing. While Faber gets a slight edge in every other metric of power, accuracy and defense, it’s the Pace Advantage for Barao that led him to outwork Faber 290 to 178 in attempted Significant Strikes in their first fight. It didn’t matter that Faber was more accurate; judges often can’t tell the difference. When it comes to scoring rounds today, he who throws more, wins. The trick here is whether or not the Bang Effect (the influences of new head coach Duane “Bang” Ludwig) will boost Faber’s technical striking, and whether or not a strategic decision will be made to engage more often and initiate exchanges. Faber was the more accurate striker in the first meeting (which is normally true for counter-strikers), but he outlanded Barao in only one of the five rounds due to much lower overall volume of attempts. Who will adjust their game plan accordingly? Grappling Matchup: In their first fight, Faber was the only one attempting takedowns, but he went 0 for 6 for the night. Barao has yet to face enough takedown attempts in the UFC to warrant a spot in the record books, but if he defends five or more takedowns this weekend without being put on his back he’ll immediately jump to #1 in UFC history. That’s right above Jon Jones. Hell, even if he gets put down once in five attempts he’ll still be #2. So the takeaway here is that Barao is really hard to take down, something that Faber found out in their first fight. Given Barao’s last performance, he may not attempt a takedown here. He didn’t need one in their first fight, and he didn’t even try. But historically, once on the ground Barao has definitely been active. He advances frequently and generally dominates. Faber’s ground stats are good, they just aren’t as good as Barao’s. So the real question is whether or not the ground game will even come into effect. It doesn’t seem likely. Reed’s Pick: Barao by Split Decision (click for latest MMA odds) Reed’s Recommended Play: Barao and Faber stack up fairly evenly in the striking department. Faber actually looks solid on technical merit, but it’s the pace differential that sank him in the first fight (and others). But given the opportunity here for Faber to learn from the first fight and make the necessary adjustments, I don’t think he should be a bigger underdog here than he was two years ago (Faber was +150 then). Closing the competitive gap from the first fight is difficult and a big unknown, but the numbers say this one is a lot closer than the odds, which puts value on the underdog in this situation. The over is currently -155 for 4.5 rounds, basically meaning the fight is expected to go the distance. I expect that too, as neither guy is easily finished and their first fight supports the case. You might as well take -145 for the fight goes five rounds in that case. Looking for better value? Barao by Decision is running +109. But for the true Faberleivers out there Faber by Decision is +506, and a whopping +951 for Faber by Split/Majority Decision. Faber stole one round in their first fight, and you believe that he’ll be the one making slightly better adjustments here, he could steal a couple more on the cards by abandoning the takedown game getting more aggressive in his combinations. Some guys rise to the occasion.