Renan Barao wins, shines again
Two major bantamweight fights down. One more to go this weekend if you're counting Ronda Rousey's 135-pound title fight with Liz Carmouche. And there's no reason not to -- even though neither woman represents Nova Uniao.
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The Brazilian camp has an incredible knack for churning out talent in the bantamweight division. There's never been a better time to be a pupil of Andre Pederneiras. That was evident Thursday when Nova Uniao teammates Eduardo Dantas and Marcos Galvao locked horns at Bellator 89.
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Say Barao does the unthinkable and wins the rest of his fights; the tale of his first pro bout -- The Only L -- will become a thing of legend. I'm getting ahead of myself, but the 25-year-old Brazilian still looks every bit a champion. A memorable one at that. Barao dictates what happens. Opponents were 1-for-20 on takedown attempts against Barao prior to the McDonald fight, and McDonald didn't come close to one. I'm eager to see Barao fight Dominick Cruz. The longer the interim champ does his thing while the real champ recovers, the more I think Nova Uniao will own 135 and 145.
Cub Swanson did it again, taking his fourth straight in quality fashion. He's fast and excels with a wide open MMA attack, which helped him all the way through a 15-minute tussle against a game Dustin Poirier. The 29-year-old from Palm Springs, Calif., out-hustled Poirier, especially during scrambles, and capitalized on his speed when they were at a distance. As they say, he's in the mix.
You know all the talk about how Jon Jones has no one to fight at 205 and the division is cleaned out? People need to quit with that stuff because fighters like unbeaten Jimi Manuwa always emerge to make things interesting. The light heavyweight was sharp against tall Cyrille Diabate, crowding the Frenchman and doing basically whatever he wanted. Manuwa did very well striking off the break and scoring takedowns in response to knees. It was his 13th stoppage in that many fights as a pro, by the way.
James Te-Huna showed tremendous resolve surviving and recovering from the early head kick by Ryan Jimmo. The 31-year-old New Zealander kept calm, survived, and turned the tables in a big way. This fight, I think we can say, showed what Te-Huna is made of. Improved wrestling and strong ground and pound made a big difference in the dramatic comeback. You figure as he climbs the ranks, Te-Huna will be required to survive again. He's proven he can be knocked silly and still win.
Gunnar Nelson answered the test against an experienced, similarly skilled opponent. He also went the distance for the first time since his pro debut in 2007. Fifteen minutes with Jorge Santiago will only benefit the 24-year-old Icelandic grappler. Nelson brings an odd mix of movements and angles that make him fun to watch and difficult for opponents to handle. Once action hits the ground he's all business and looks like a constant threat. Beating a stronger wrestler, like the forthcoming Matt Riddle, would indicate Nelson is a Maia-like presence at 170.
Even in defeat McDonald, 22, came off like a stud bantamweight. Barao was just that good and it only took one mistake on the floor to get strangled. Count on "Mayday" fighting around the top of the class for a long time. He struggled with Barao's quickness and range and, like everyone else, couldn't take the interim champ down. He wasn't quite ready and that's fine. McDonald appears to be the kind of kid that will learn and make the most out of his athleticism and power.
Counting the pot-induced no contest against Chris Clements as a win, and how could you not, Matthew Riddle is on a roll. His pressure is suffocating, as Che Mills now knows. Alone, Riddle's mixture of takedowns and transitions appear capable of keeping him competitive against upper-echelon welterweights. Add a strong chin and the willingness to fire back when he's attacked, and you can see the 27-year-old Riddle molding into a pretty nice fighter.
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