Renan Barao closed out UFC 169 and defended his now undisputed UFC bantamweight crown over Urijah Faber with an onslaught of strikes that referee Herb Dean deemed sufficient enough for him to call a halt to proceedings.

They weren’t.

Herb Dean made quite the boo-boo in waving off this title fight late in the first round, as while Barao was delivering hammer fists with relentless pressure, very few were landing clean. It wasn’t as much the strikes of Barao that called an end to Faber’s challenge, but more likely the eyes of Barao.

With the bout starting in an expected tentative fashion, with each man preferring to judge his opponent’s range and timing before engaging, Barao landed a hard straight right at the midway point of the round that dropped Faber and had Barao swarming. Faber was to recover to a point, but any respite was short-lived with Barao cracking Faber again, this time with a looping overhand right that wobbled the challenger. Barao pounced and Faber fell. This was when Barao’s hammer fists and gaze came in to play.

Barao sensed that the end was nigh for Faber and it was here he showed an in-cage savvy that we have yet to witness from the ever-improving Brazilian. Having begun a barrage of short shots to the side of Faber’s head and glove, Barao took his eyes of his opponent and firmly fixed his sights on that of Herb Dean, as if to plead with the referee to stop the fight. With this look, Barao was indicating to Dean that Faber was in no position to recover and that the referee was not fulfilling his duty of care to the fighter. After a few more seconds, and several less than flush strikes, Barao shot another look to Herb Dean and that was all she wrote.

Faber was hurt, no doubt about it. However, Faber was far from dazed or prone and most importantly, Faber was defending himself as intelligently as he could from the position he found himself in. Faber was blocking Barao’s shots to an extent and had a hold of Barao’s leg to prevent the champion from advancing to a more advantageous position where he would have been on the receiving end of more meaningful damage.

Dean had attempted to engage with Faber and reminded ‘The California Kid’ of the need to intelligently defend himself. It was at this point that Faber was to signal to Dean, a thumbs up that Dean surely missed as a result of its positioning under Barao’s leg. As Dean stepped in to wave of Barao’s attack and end the fight, the damage had been done, not to Faber’s immediate physical wellbeing, but rather to Faber’s foiled challenge for the belt.

This is not to say that if Herb Dean had let the action continue that Faber would have been in any better position. Prior to the stoppage, Barao looked impervious to Faber’s attacks and unchallenged by what was in front of him. If the fight had continued to follow the pattern of the first round prior to the early stoppage, the result would still have been the same, just perhaps more appropriately timed.

While the controversial conclusion to the bout will dominate the headlines in the coming days and weeks, Barao’s ever-increasing dominance over his 135lbs peers should not be overshadowed. The Team Nova Uniao product has truly blasted a hole through the UFC bantamweight division and is beginning to run out of challengers.

During his UFC tenure, Barao has taken on and defeated 135lbs standouts Brad Pickett, Scott Jorgensen, Michael McDonald, Eddie Wineland and Urijah Faber (x2). With former champ Dominick Cruz out for the foreseeable, and even if he did make it back sooner than expected, Cruz has not fought since October 2011, thus leaving Barao with very little left to achieve in this division other than a desire to forge a legacy as the greatest bantamweight we have seen. It could well be that we see Barao make the move to featherweight, particularly as it now appears as though Barao’s teammate and current 145lbs kingpin, José Aldo will be vacating his UFC belt to take on UFC Lightweight champ, Anthony Pettis sometime in the summer once Pettis has recovered from injury.

Before I sign off, it must also be noted that Urijah Faber is a complete class act.

On the receiving end of a premature stoppage that concluded another failed challenge for UFC gold, Faber would have been well within his rights to bitch and moan until the cows came home. Instead, after first explaining to Herb Dean that he was of sound mind, Faber took the call in his stride, quickly congratulating Barao on his victory, once the champ had stopped dancing that is.

Faber was also there to lend a reassuring pat on the back to Herb Dean as the capacity crowd booed the reading out of the official decision, as well as hailing Dean as “one of the best referees in the game.” Faber would resist the temptation to call for an immediate rematch to right any perceived wrongs and spoke only of getting back in the gym and Octagon in order to improve himself enough to warrant another tilt at the title. Ever the model teammate, Faber would go on to offer up the services of fellow Team Alpha Male member, TJ Dillashaw, the #5 ranked bantamweight in the UFC, to help take care of Faber’s “dirty work” with Barao.

Who Barao faces next is far from certain, but who ends up with their hand raised after a Barao fight is beginning to feel like a foregone conclusion.

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