Saturday, July 23rd, 2016 by Tony Reid
Former UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao, a man still considered one of the pound for pound best in the sport, walks the streets of a small town in Northeastern Pennsylvania in near anonymity.
He made the long trip from his home in Brazil to the Keystone State to support teammate and lifelong friend Claudia Gadelha in her new business venture in the well-known vacation region of the Pocono Mountains. The Claudia Gadelha MMA and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy opened its doors less than a year ago and has already taken the area by storm, so such so that the owners are in the process of purchasing a second location.
“I am really happy for Claudia. Now she gets to show her hard work to everybody.” Barao said.
Many topics arise when speaking to the shy and soft-spoken Barao at AC’s, a 50’s and 60’s themed diner, found in the same complex as the gym itself. Barao seems to be enjoying himself after A.J. Hiller, the owner and operator of the gym and restaurant, hands Renan a cup full of tokens to try his hand at the wide array of games in the diner’s game room.
Barao, speaking just a few short days after Gadelha’s tough loss to bitter rival Joanna Jedrzejczyk in the main event of the TUF 23 Finale, still has the fight on his mind.
It has been said, behind the scenes, that Claudia may have done too much training leading up to the fight, even to the point of over- training the day of the fight. Her fight camp was exceptionally long, nearly twice as long as most fight camps. The challenger sparred for an unusually long period of time in the moments leading up to the title fight that night. All of these factors can easily lead to an over-trained, underperforming fighter, which is what the world saw that night during International Fight Week.
“With Claudia’s fight she was just tired. She was gassed out. It was just way too much training. The first round was hers but that’s just the way it goes sometimes.” Barao said.
Gadelha dropped the champion in the first round and pulled Jedrzejczyk into deep waters early in the contest but by the third round the champion had regained control of the fight from the wavering hands of the exhausted challenger. Joanna Champion used her vicious Muay Thai striking game to bloody and batter the Gadelha and in the end Jedrzejczyk retained the UFC women’s strawweight title, kept her unblemished record intact and moved to 2-0 against her most heated rival.
The former UFC bantamweight king has had his fair share of obstacles to overcome and setbacks inside and outside of the Octagon in recent years. After a nine plus year, 32 fight unbeaten streak, Barao has now dropped three of his last four fights inside the Octagon.
In one of the greatest upsets the sport has ever seen, Barao’s unblemished streak came to a shocking end when he dropped the bantamweight title in just his second defense in devastating fashion to T.J. Dillashaw at UFC 173 via TKO late in the fifth round of the fight. In a surprising development, the world saw the wresting heavy game that T.J. Dillashaw showcases shift gears, change the gameplan and outstrike the champion throughout the fight. Dillashaw eventually finished Barao with a headkick followed by a few well-placed punches.
An immediate rematch was scheduled to take place at UFC 177 in August of that year but it was not meant to be as Barao was hospitalized the day of weigh ins after becoming ill during the weight cutting process. Barao was cutting weight in the hotel room bathtub when he stood up, lost consciousness and fell and hit his head. He was released from the hospital shortly thereafter but the writing was on the wall. This weight cut was becoming too much for the former champion to endure.
“The cut to 135 was breaking me. It was just too much.” Barao said. “That’s why I decided to move up to 145. When it came time to cut the weight. That was the most difficult time, just knowing that I had to cut back down. That weighed on me mentally and affected my mental health.”
After picking up a much needed win against Mitch Gagnon Barao was awarded a rematch with Dillashaw for a chance to regain the title. The former champion came up short again, getting stopped in the rematch to Dillashaw at UFC Fight Night Dillashaw vs. Barao 2. A decision was made. It was time to move up a weight class and join the UFC’s featherweight division.
He was welcomed to the deep division by perennial contender Jeremey Stephens at UFC Fight Night 88 in May. Stephens has some of the heaviest hands and most vicious striking in the division. After a back and forth “Fight of the Night” scrap, Stephens emerged the victor on the judge’s scorecards. Barao felt he had done enough to win the fight and refuses to be discouraged by the outcome.
“My previous fight against Jeremy Stephens was probably the hardest I have been hit in a fight.” Barao said. “The result is the result but I feel like I won that fight. I am just chasing after it now. I am ready to get back in there.”