Make no mistake, former champ Renan Barao notched a very important win tonight at UFC Fight Night 58 in Brazil when he tapped out Mitch Gagnon with a head/arm choke, as the victory edged him just that much closer to a rematch with bantamweight king TJ Dillashaw – the very man who dethroned him. But despite a performance that saw him shrug off every takedown attempt, out-strike, and eventually out-wrestle the gritty Canadian, Barao failed to do perhaps the most important thing a wannabe title challenger must do to earn his crack at the champ: He failed to impress.
Prior to facing Dillashaw on that ill-fated night in May at UFC 173, Barao was on a stunner of a streak that made him seem virtually untouchable in the cage. He’d just crushed superstar Urijah Faber, utterly smashed Eddie Wineland, and soundly defeated everyone else UFC/WEC matchmakers had thrown at him. He was, as Joe Rogan was often quoted as saying, “a monster!”
Of course, Dillashaw’s dominant win did much to dispel some of that aura, at least for the time being. But the Nova Uniao-trained fighter had to still be considered elite. Regardless of what Dillashaw had done, Barao’s resume was legit. Right?
Yet the severity of that loss, plus failing to make it into the Octagon for the immediate rematch at UFC 177, went a ways towards making Barao appear much less invincible. And tonight, for struggling a little too much against someone the Brazilian would’ve outright murdered just a year ago, the former champ invariably looked like someone who maybe would get another crack at the belt but who’d get beaten down by Dillashaw even worse.
It may have taken nine years for Barao’s win streak to end, but now that it’s over, we could be spending the next nine wondering where that unbeatable 135-pound monster went.