Fans in Alberta, Canada waited a long time to see UFC action in their neck of the woods. What they saw from the main card at UFC 149 on Saturday night didn’t rate very high on the excitement scale, but it did feature a possible changing of the guard in the bantamweight division.
Renan Barao continued his rapid rise to the top ranks of mixed martial arts by nearly shutting out Urijah Faber in the night’s main event, claiming the UFC Interim Bantamweight Championship by scores of 49-46, 50-45 and 49-46. Now undefeated in his last 30 professional fights, Barao guaranteed himself a shot at Dominick Cruz once the injured bantamweight king returns to active duty.
From the opening bell, Faber (26-6, 2-2 in the UFC) moved around and switched stances constantly, hoping to avoid the leg kicks that Jose Aldo once used on him to devastating effect. Attacking Faber’s lead leg was indeed part of the plan for Barao (29-1, 4-0 UFC), but the Brazilian had many more weapons in his striking arsenal. Barao was effective at using a variety of kicks and punches from a distance, leaving his shorter opponent unable to get inside.
Faber appeared to switch tactics in Round 3, attempting to catch some of the incoming kicks and force the fight to the ground. But Barao’s strength and balance easily got him out of trouble each time, and even when Faber managed to land some solid right hands, they were almost always answered by a flurry of shots coming back the other way.
Barao also rebuffed any attempts to keep the action along the cage or in the clinch. He took a few chances at some showy spinning kicks in the last few minutes of Round 5 but generally seemed content to ride out his wide decision.
A dejected Faber seemed resigned to his fate after the judges’ scores were read, telling Joe Rogan that Barao was simply too good at keeping his distance to land strikes. The “California Kid” also revealed that he thought he had a broken rib courtesy of a Barao knee early in the fight.
The fans at the Scotiabank Saddledome were restless at the end of the night, perhaps because they had seen just one finish on the pay-per-view portion of the card. That came during the opening bout, when Matt Riddle got Chris Clements to tap out to a slick standing arm triangle.
Riddle (7-4, 7-4 UFC) played into the strengths of Clements (11-5, 1-1 UFC) for portions of the first two rounds, showing no fear of striking with the striker. He even seemed to hurt Clements with a body kick in Round 1, but referee Josh Rosenthal believed it was low and gave the Canadian time to recover.
Though Clements found the range more often as the fight went on, his end came suddenly. After missing a spinning back fist – the same move that recently spelled disaster for Chael Sonnen in his rematch bid against Anderson Silva – he found his neck and arm caught as he turned around. All Riddle had to do was keep the hold locked in as he tripped Clements to the ground to earn the submission victory at 2:02 of Round 3.
There were precious few thrills during the other three main card bouts. In the co-feature, Tim Boetsch spoiled the long awaited octagon debut of Hector Lombard by grinding out a split decision win.
Known for his frenetic bursts of offense and well-rounded game during his time in Bellator, Lombard (31-3-1, 0-1 UFC) was strangely docile on Saturday. He was content to stand in front of Boetsch (16-4, 7-3 UFC), looking for a knockout shot that never came.
That worked out fine for “The Barbarian,” who saw his takedown attempts stuffed but kept busy with front kicks, leg kicks and punches. In the end, two judges preferred his higher work rate by 29-28 scores, with the third judge seeing it for Lombard by the same margin.
Heavyweight Shawn Jordan also turned in a disappointing performance. Seen as a potential rising star going into the show, the former LSU football player never got any offense going and ended up dropping a wide unanimous decision to the more experienced Cheick Kongo.
The crowd got behind Kongo (18-7-2, 11-5-1 UFC) even as he found himself repeatedly backed into the cage. He had trouble working his way out from the grasp of the bulkier Jordan (13-4, 1-1 UFC) in Round 1, but he enjoyed more and more success as the fight went on.
Kongo also landed more strikes, with Jordan almost completely ineffective in his stand-up attack. Jordan earned a single 10-10 round but was otherwise completely blanked on the scorecards, leaving him to regroup following his first loss in the octagon.
Brian Ebersole also tasted defeat for the first time in his UFC career, losing a close but somewhat lackluster split decision to James Head. He was never in trouble on the ground but also failed to make much of an impact on his feet, leaving the judges to give the nod to his more limited but more aggressive opponent.
True to his reputation, Ebersole (50-15-1, 4-1 UFC) flashed a thumbs up when Head (9-2, 2-1 UFC) attempted an early guillotine choke. Round 2 favored Ebersole in most of the striking exchanges, but the well-traveled veteran lost control of the fight in the final frame.
Head simply kept coming with punches and knees to the body that made up in quantity what they lacked in artistry. Boos rained down in the closing minutes – not for the only time during the night – but Head at least left with the satisfaction of having his hand raised in victory.