Renan Barao defends interim belt

Updated: February 16, 2013, 11:10 PM ET
By Brett Okamoto | ESPN.com

Dominick Cruz still may be the official champion of the UFC bantamweight division -- but Renan Barao is playing the part in his absence.

Barao defended his UFC 135-pound interim title on Saturday, submitting Michael McDonald via arm triangle at the 3:57 mark of the fourth round before a sellout crowd at Wembley Arena in London.

It was the first defense of Barao's interim title, which he claimed with a decision over Urijah Faber in July. Immediately following the victory, Barao wished Cruz, who has been sidelined since 2011 with a knee injury, a speedy recovery.

"Dominick Cruz -- I'm waiting for you," Barao said. "Please come quick."

The Brazilian had a more difficult time defending his belt than he did earning it seven months ago, as the 22-year-old McDonald proved a tough challenger.

Barao (30-1) looked to test his opponent's defensive grappling early, securing a takedown in the first minute of the fight. He soon found out McDonald wasn't exactly weak on the floor.

After quickly bouncing back to his feet, McDonald (15-2) looked to create his openings on his feet. He ate several counter-left hooks by Barao, but dropped the interim champ momentarily with a right hand to the temple late in the round.

[+] EnlargeRenan Barao
Martin McNeil for ESPNRenan Barao's dynamic striking helped set up a submission finish in Round 4.

The pace slowed in the second round, as both fighters looked for opportunities to counter one another on the feet. Barao scored another takedown on a single leg, but was again unsuccessful in keeping McDonald on the floor.

Barao, who trains alongside UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo, started to find his groove in the third round. He landed a beautiful straight right after slipping a lead hook from McDonald, then dazzled the British crowd with a spinning backkick.

"This was the result of a lot of hard work," Barao said. "I left my family four months ago. I spent Christmas in Rio training very hard."

It was clear the champ had found his comfort zone by the fourth. He opened the frame with a flying knee that had McDonald bleeding badly from the nose. After closing in on a takedown attempt, Barao transitioned to McDonald's back in a scramble, which eventually led to the finish.

The Brazilian has gone unbeaten in 31 consecutive fights, with his only loss coming during his professional debut in 2005. He'll now set his sights on Cruz (19-1), the No. 5 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, according to ESPN.com.

There is no specific timetable on Cruz's return, but UFC president Dana White has stated the promotion has no plan to strip the 27-year-old of his title.

Savvy Swanson downs Poirier

Cub Swanson continues to tear through the UFC featherweight division.

The Albuquerque, N.M.-based fighter appears to have hit his peak, running his win streak to four with a unanimous decision over Dustin Poirier.

[+] EnlargeCub Swanson
Martin McNeil for ESPNCub Swanson's aggressive style saw him past Dustin Poirier.

Poirier seized momentum at various times, especially early in the third round, but Swanson (19-5) always found a way to turn it back in his favor. Two judges had it a shutout, with final scores at 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28.

Swanson's edge in the striking department showed up early. He kept Poirier guessing throughout the fight, mixing up leg kicks, overhand rights, lead hooks and stinging body punches.

It was clear Poirier (13-3) wanted to put Swanson on the ground during the first two rounds, but he had a hard time doing so. When he did manage to put Swanson there, it didn't last long. Swanson threatened with various submissions off his back, created space and popped up to his feet.

The fight nearly took a dramatic turn in the third round. After shooting in for a takedown, Poirier caught Swanson against the fence and unloaded a hard combination. As Swanson looked to circle away, Poirier chased him with a left cross and a stiff jab that sent Swanson's head back.

After defending the takedown earlier in the fight, Swanson switched gears and landed a big double-leg to slow Poirier. He even transitioned to Poirier's back before the final bell.

Swanson still has work to do to secure the No. 1 contender spot. His last loss came at the hands of Ricardo Lamas, who figures to remain in front of him in the rankings after having won two bouts since their clash. Poirier falls to 1-2 in his past three fights.

Manuwa chops down Diabate in one round

Jimi Manuwa has added another victim to his fast-growing knockout list.

The hard-hitting light heavyweight earned his 14th consecutive victory when a leg injury prevented Cyrille Diabate from answering the bell for the second round.

[+] EnlargeJimi Manuwa
Martin McNeil for ESPNJimi Manuwa notched another easy victory -- this time at the expense of Cyrille Diabate.

The result followed what was a highly entertaining opening frame. Manuwa (14-0) went to work on the southpaw's lead leg with kicks and had him staggered at one point from a hard left hook.

Diabate (19-8-1) regained his wits, however, and landed a hard knee to the body from the Thai clinch late in the round. After eating the knee, Manuwa pressed forward and secured a takedown, which might have been when Diabate's leg injury occurred.

It's the second consecutive time Manuwa has watched a cageside doctor wave off a fight. He earned a second-round TKO victory in his UFC debut in September when Kyle Kingsbury was unable to continue due to a badly swollen eye.

The Brit now has finished 10 of his 14 professional fights in the first round.

Diabate had his two-fight win streak snapped. The 39-year-old is 4-3 in the UFC.

Nelson wears down Santiago

Gunnar Nelson failed to finish an opponent for the first time since 2007, but his unbeaten record remains intact following a decision win over Jorge Santiago.

Making his first appearance at 170 pounds for the UFC, Santiago proved a tough out but couldn't quite edge Nelson on the scorecards. All three judges (29-28, 29-28, 30-27) scored it for the 24-year-old prospect.

[+] EnlargeJames Te-Huna
Martin McNeil for ESPNRyan Jimmo, top, nearly had James Te Huna down and out in Round 1.

Santiago's best work came early, as he appeared comfortable against Nelson's karate background. Santiago looked to push the pace on Nelson and tagged him with a right hand and knee under the chin.

Nelson (11-0-1) responded the following round, pushing Santiago to the fence with a flurry of punches before dropping in for the takedown. Once he got the fight to the floor, the Renzo Grazie jiu-jitsu student worked to mount and easily won the round.

As the final frame got under way, it was clear the pace had worn on Santiago (25-11). He continued moving forward, but his punches became wild, leaving openings for several hard uppercuts from Nelson up the middle. Santiago finished the fight with an entertaining exchange along the fence, but it wasn't enough to save the round.

Nelson has now won 11 consecutive fights, including nine first-round finishes. He submitted DaMarques Johnson via rear-naked choke in less than four minutes in his UFC debut. Santiago, cut by the UFC in 2011 following losses to Brian Stann and Demian Maia, drops to 1-5.

Te Huna survives storm to top Jimmo

James Te Huna already had proven he can land devastating strikes in the Octagon. On Saturday, he proved can take them, too.

The Australian light heavyweight came back from a difficult first round to take a unanimous decision win over Ryan Jimmo. Two judges scored the bout 29-28, while a third judge scored it 30-27.

[+] EnlargeMatt Riddle
Martin McNeil for ESPNMatt Riddle, right, never allowed Che Mills to find his groove during their three-round affair.

Te Huna (16-5) was in trouble virtually from the opening bell, as Jimmo dropped him with a devastating left head kick. Dazed, Te Huna absorbed a flurry of follow-up punches but managed to close his guard, slow things down and survive.

"He hurt me pretty bad," Te Huna said. "He got a few good shots in. But I managed to survive the [first] round, and in the second round, he was a little weaker on his back and I attacked from there."

A takedown midway through the second round put Te Huna in side control, where he went to work with elbows and hammerfists. A similar scenario played out in the final frame, as Te Huna outwrestled Jimmo to the floor and maintained top position.

Te Huna improves to 5-1 in the UFC, including three finishes. The 31-year-old said he hopes the win will give him an opportunity to fight a top-10 opponent.

Jimmo (17-2) sees a 17-fight win streak snapped. The Canadian's last loss came via first-round knockout in his professional debut in 2007.

Riddle's takedowns prove key against Mills

Matt Riddle's reservations about fighting in England likely won't end any time soon.

Riddle was nearly robbed of a clear-cut decision over fellow welterweight Che Mills. Riddle dominated the fight with takedowns and ground-and-pound, but that didn't stop one judge from scoring the contest 29-28 in favor of Mills.

The other two judges sided with Riddle by scores of 30-27 and 29-28. ESPN.com scored the fight 30-27 for Riddle.

[+] EnlargeGunnar Nelson
Martin McNeil for ESPNGunnar Nelson's unorthodox style saw him past Jorge Santiago.

Riddle (8-3) is not exactly a fan favorite across the pond. British fans spit at him on his way to the Octagon before a 2009 fight against Nick Osipczak in Manchester, which Riddle lost via TKO in the third round.

The contest went much better for the Las Vegas-based Riddle this time, as he was able to get Mills (15-6) to the floor continuously with single-leg takedowns and trips along the fence.

Mills had his moments on the feet, where he held a visible technical advantage. He landed several stiff jabs in the opening frame and drew Riddle into a brief exchange to start the third.

For the majority of the fight, however, his offensive striking was completely shut down by Riddle's pressure. He threw a flashy, unorthodox kick in the second round that drew a reaction from the crowd, but only led to another Riddle takedown.

Riddle has been adamant he'd like to face another British striker in 2013 -- Dan Hardy. Hardy is scheduled to fight Matt Brown at a UFC on Fox event in April.

Mills falls to 2-2 in the Octagon.