Renan Barao, the bantamweight contender from Nova Uniao who faces former title challenger Scott Jorgensen at UFC 143, has a strong opinion about things that are new to him. And we are not just talking about fights, as Barao has already shown that he can stand and bang or grapple with splendor and, in the process, deal with matters such as his international debut in the WEC back in 2010, his move to the UFC, and his most recent bout in his opponent’s backyard when he subbed local hero Brad "One Punch" Pickett in England.
For Barao, it’s all just a case of adaptation, training, and will that make these new ventures become second nature, not only in the sport, but in life too.
"I never felt that responsibility that people are used to putting on me," he says. "They say I am a Nova Uniao black belt, so I need to sub everybody to prove a point, but I don't see it this way. Guys forget that I have also been training boxing for so long, so my game is to finish the fights, not exclusively trying to take people down and work the ground game. Perhaps the two fights I had in the WEC and in my UFC debut cemented the mindset that I am a grappler, and because of it they got shocked when I was better at trading blows with a guy nicknamed ‘One Punch.’"
The performance against Pickett back in November at UFC 138 was really impressive, and Barao fought like he was competing in an empty arena as he ignored the audience's boos in order to put on an absolute showcase of his talent. In pre-fight comments, he said the British fans’ cheers wouldn't affect him, and he naturally adapted himself to the situation with ease.
Yet while he deals with the pressure of his sport with no problem, saying it’s all about adjustment, we can't say the same thing when the topic is his samba dancing. Before UFC 142 in Rio de Janeiro in January, Barao, along with Junior dos Santos, Ronny Markes and Johnny Eduardo, made an appearance at Samba School to test their skills with the rhythm and proved that the first two men are much better fighters than dancers.
"I shocked everybody with my rhythm (or lack of it), did you see?” he laughs. "If it was forro (a traditional rhythm from the Northeast of Brazil), you would see my talent, but samba... You know, give me a couple of weeks to train and I'll adjust better (laughs)."
All kidding aside, the 25-year old Rio Grande do Norte native did do his homework in the last 60 days of preparation, and after getting an in-depth look at his adversary’s footage, Barao took the first step toward extending his superb unbeaten streak to 30. Once again he speaks about adapting, adding that there are a combination of factors needed for him to overcome Jorgensen this weekend.
"I don't agree with those who talk about not studying your opponent’s game; it's very important to be aware of what the tendencies of Jorgensen are. That is part of a great strategy to trap the opponent or to capitalize on the holes in his game." Barao said. "On the other hand, these two fights I had in WEC and two in UFC were kind of a maturation for me. I felt the vibration, I could let my game go, and I could see what happens when you have the crowd on your side and you can't impose your will – being the favorite becomes a heavy boulder on your shoulder. You know, I believe this was what happened to Pickett; all the responsibility was on him, and the moment my punches and knees started to connect, he saw that the crowd couldn’t help and that it was only me and him inside the cage."
Topping with Jorgensen, Barao (29-1 1 NC) might not been counting with the "Young Guns" using the public to discourage him.
In Jorgensen, Barao will be facing a fighter who is in the top five in the bantamweight division, and who has wrestling credentials linked to the punching power that separated Ken Stone from his senses at the TUF 13 Finale and neutralized Brazilian jiu-jitsu wizard and former WEC featherweight title challenger Jeff Curran. These “Young Guns” are the real deal to combat the Brazilian’s game, but Barao hopes to fire back with his own arsenal.
"What I can tell you is that the fight will be huge,” said Barao. “We are finishers, we are agile and we want the gold. I want to show more of my game on the feet, where I have the reach advantage over my recent opponents, and I know that to have a long reach is not a guarantee that you will box better, but I know how to use it. I know what the fight's positive outcome can generate for me and the key factor is to not get your mind lost into it. Just impose your game."
This pivotal meeting will probably mark the rise of a contender for the winner of Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber III. And though the Brazilian is aware of this aftermath, the current moment is the more important goal now as he has only one responsibility.
"My unique and exclusive responsibility is to go forward in all my fights, try to control the opponent and show my game and my work. This is the goal I carry, and it isn't heavy when I step in the cage."
Renan Barao and The Art of Adaptation
"My game is to finish the fights, not exclusively trying to take people down and work the ground game." - Renan Barao