After Dominick Cruz got hurt, again, this seemed like the most exciting possible matchup for the bantamweight division. You have two young, hungry fighters who’ve blown through some of the old guard en route to fighting for the title. Dominick Cruz would’ve had to face both of these guys if he was still healthy; now they square off for the interim title that Barao hold in his stead.
Fight Breakdown – Everyone compares Barao to his stable mate, and featherweight champion, Jose Aldo because it’s an easy one to make. Both are dynamic strikers with significant ground games who’ve stopped tons of guys in relatively short careers so far. And both have also taken apart Urijah Faber for a title, as well, so there’s that too. But he’s a much different fighter than Aldo in a lot of significant ways.
Barao is a dynamic striker but the thing that’s never mentioned as often as it should is that he manages distance phenomenally well. It’s the thing he does better than anyone in the division. And that’s just not my opinion; when Dominick Cruz points that out it’s something you have to be aware of. Look for him to manage distance, and try to pick MacDonald apart until he can seize on an opportunity. He has enough to artillery to get into an extended battle but don’t look for him to do so. He showed in the Faber fight that he has patience and the ability to use his striking to win rounds and find his spot.
MacDonald’s game is a much more power oriented striker, always looking to close the gap to throw a big shot. He’s well rounded, the first guys from the upcoming generation that has trained in MMA and not just a particular combat sports, but his strength has been his ability to stop guys. MacDonald has fight changing power as he has a number of knockout wins on his record. His plan is going to get close to Barao and land something big.
Both guys have considerable ground games but don’t look for this to become a ground battle. Neither guy is wrestle/grapple first oriented. The key will be how Barao’s distance management plays against MacDonald’s heavy hands. If “Mayday” can get inside, and land big shots, he can end this early. Barao needs to keep his distance and find his moment as opposed to press his luck with a throw from the hips brawl. MacDonald needs to press him, be the aggressor and push the pace.
Why it matters – It’s for the interim UFC bantamweight title, which is still an interim title but still worth something. This is also probably the first in an epic trilogy between these two; this is a matchup of the two best young talents in the division we’re seeing at the exact right time.
Prediction – Barao