Barao not in Aldo's league just yet

July, 22, 2012
7/22/12
2:43
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Gross By Josh Gross
ESPN.com
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It's an easy (and perhaps unfair) comparison.

Renan Barao, like Jose Aldo, is 25 and seemingly full of talent. They fight out of the same camp (Nova Uniao). Each of their impressive ledgers are marked by just one loss. Now they both hold UFC belts.

Yet based off Saturday's UFC interim bantamweight title win against Urijah Faber, Barao -- who is essentially the 135-pound standing No. 1 contender to Dominick Cruz -- doesn't stack up to the UFC featherweight champion.

The eager Brazilian out-pointed Faber, there's no question about that. Of course, Aldo did the same when Faber challenged him more than two years ago. However Barao and Aldo, the UFC featherweight champ, go about their business in wholly different ways.

While Aldo often operates like an assassin -- slamming heavy kicks off his opponents' thighs, crashing into them with debilitating consequence, launching an assortment of perfectly timed strikes, finishing on the floor (or wherever he wants) -- Barao comes off as measured, content to utilize range, take-down defense and just enough striking to outpoint shorter, often less-athletic foes.

That's fine. Barao and Aldo don't have to be clones to qualify as excellent.

Here's the thing, though: Aldo stormed on to pound-for-pound lists because he offered a dynamism not often seen in MMA. It was clear from the jump that Aldo was special. He did things no one else did, and he did them on the regular. If Barao is capable of similar feats, he needs to step it up.

I’m not suggesting Barao is ordinary. He’s better than that. How much better, though? Is he a guy that will dominate a division and provide perpetual highlights?
[+] EnlargeJose Aldo and Urijah Faber
Jon Kopaloff/Getty ImagesJose Aldo left Urijah Faber completely debilitated before five rounds were complete.

When Aldo was exploding through the ranks in 2009, most people felt, flat-out, "yes, this kid is going to do something great in MMA."

It’s an admittedly high threshold, but I’m not feeling similarly about Barao.

That said, Barao could beat Cruz when he gets the chance (I'd pick the defending champ because, on top of everything else that makes him difficult to handle, Cruz won't suffer from a huge reach deficit). The newly minted interim champion is a solid boxer with quick hands and a tight style. That's a dangerous combination, certainly not something worse dismissing, especially when augmented by excellent submission grappling skills.

But even with all that at his disposal, has Barao shown the “it” factor? ... You didn’t have to think about it with Aldo.

After spending 25 minutes in the cage with Barao, Faber was asked to compare the type of leg attacks he faced Saturday in Calgary against the April 2010 onslaught against Aldo.

"It was nothing like Aldo," Faber said. "Aldo really took my leg apart. I felt [Barao's] kicks for sure, but it wasn't the same thing."

What Faber didn't feel over five rounds was pressure. In the first, Barao utilized his boxing and range, confounding Faber but never hurting him. That was largely the tune in Round 2, though Faber discovered when he stepped closer by half a foot he could connect to Barao's head. The 33-year-old American (5-5 in his last 10 contests) took that with him into the third and, I thought, actually won the round. Whatever momentum he might have seized was gone at the end of four, as Barao once again made the most of his length. And finally, in the fifth, Barao decided to up the power punching -- not to any great effect but enough to indicate he had plenty in reserve.

I want to see what's in the vault. Is he capable of showing it to us? We didn't see it in his last contest either, a decision over Scott Jorgensen.

On the road to his championship, Aldo wrecked people. If Barao possesses that ability, it may not be his inclination to show it. Unless that changes he won't climb to his teammate's Everest-like status.

Fortunately for Barao, Aldo is so good that being a notch worse translates to being among the best in the world. That’s not so bad, and Barao will have a chance to absolutely prove his worth soon enough.

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