This Saturday night’s UFC 214 event is undoubtedly stacked. So stacked that some particular fights can easily be overlooked. One of those fights being Renan Barao against Aljamain Sterling. Barao, once ruled the UFC’s bantamweight division and is now struggling to make the bantamweight limit, in fact the fight between both men will be contested at 140 lbs because of Barao’s struggle. Sterling on the other hand hit a bit of a speed bump in the form of two consecutive losses prior to his last win, which hindered his ascension. All in all, both men will have the opportunity to erase some doubt tomorrow night.
Barao’s biggest flaw in his career has been his inability to make weight or at least make the weight in proper fashion. His arrival to the title picture came in 2012 against Urijah Faber and only grew in excellence as he went on a three fight finishing spree while defending his title. Barao’s presence in the octagon was accentuated by his 32 winning streak that dated back to 2005. He was dangerous and skilled to anyone who chose to stand with him. It was incredibly and still is incredibly difficult to take him down and keep him there. Barao has never been taken down in the 33 attempts his UFC opponents have tried. Barao’s weight issues were just one aspect of his downfall, the prominent one being the rise of TJ Dillashaw in 2014.
We haven’t seen much of Barao as of late, he only fought twice in 2016, a loss against Jeremy Stephens in May and a win over Philip Nover in September. Both bouts were contested at 145 lbs. It seemed as if Barao was avoiding the featherweight division out of respect for his Nova Uniao teammate, Jose Aldo, but now it seems that Barao is not confident or comfortable enough to remain in a division better suited for his health. He is training out of Arizona with Nova Uniao coaches, but the fact that he is not training out of his usual country, Brazil did raise some eyebrows. Then there was the news that the California Athletic Commission put their foot down in offering Barao a license to fight at 140 lbs after deciding that his weight 30 days out of competition was too high in order to make the 136 lb limit at the weigh ins. It seems he just can’t catch a break. Sterling on the other hand is using Barao’s shortcomings as added motivation.
Sterling had the spotlight on him for a brief period at the age of 26 when he publicly complained about his pay and willingly tested free agency heading into 2015 with a 12 fight winning streak, four of them coming in the UFC. The market wasn’t as high on him as some believed and he returned to the UFC followed by a close loss last May against his toughest opponent to date, Bryan Caraway. The undefeated streak was over, but the “Funk Master” still attempted to rise up the rankings against Raphael Assuncao this past January. The results were a split decision loss in a low volume chess match. The loss was one that could’ve gone his way on any other night, but alas, you win some you lose some.
Sterling managed to outwork Augusto Mendes in his last bout against in April and showed promise and more aggression than in previous bouts. Saturday night he’ll be locked in a cage against somebody who is very aggressive in his attack and willing to eat a shot to land a big one. It’s difficult to predict what kind of Renan Barao will show up, but it’s clear that Sterling appears to be maturing before our eyes and a win over a former champion could propel him to the top of the division.
Barao has already lost his battle against the scale, but with the benefit of saving an extra 5 lbs in his weigh in, he could put it all behind him by further putting a dent in the Aljamain Sterling stock. Both men are entering UFC 214 with something to prove and perhaps the need to make a statement.