Bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz has been on the bench due to a series of knee injuries for two and a half years. Renan Barao has been the interim bantamweight champion since July 2012 and has already defended his kinda not real belt twice (he’d probably be up to three fights if he hadn’t injured his foot in June). All this has many people wondering why the UFC hasn’t stripped Cruz already. Dana White admits they probably should have, but why do it now that we’re SO CLOSE to having Cruz back? Estimated return fight: the first quarter of 2014 (hopefully).
That leaves poor Renan stuck as the interim guy. Which kinda sucks. Here’s Dana White trying to unsplit hairs on that one:
“Renan Barao is a champion. If you look at Renan Barao and what he has done, he’s beaten everybody that Dominick Cruz would be fighting if Dominick Cruz was healthy and was the champion. So, [the interim label] takes nothing away from [Barao], other than just that pin, that place holder until Dominick Cruz comes back… But for all intents and purposes, Renan Barao is the real champion. He’s the one that’s beating the guys that need to be beaten.”
Hey that’s all well and good – let’s write in our diaries that he’s the bantamweight champion of our hearts. That doesn’t change the very real financial repercussions of having an unsexy word like ‘interim’ stuck around your neck like a lodestone. As far as everyone is concerned, he’s the champion*. And that asterisks has very real consequences. Just ask his trainer, Nova Uniao’s Andre Pederneiras:
“He’s very frustrated because he needs to make money,” Pederneiras told MMAjunkie.com Radio. “So many sponsors here in Brazil are not sponsoring him because he’s not the real champion from the UFC. He’s the interim champion. He’s losing money every day.
“The sponsors here want a real champion. A linear champion.”
And let’s be honest here – Brazilian sponsors aren’t alone in ignoring Barao because he’s only some interim guy. To most spectators of the sport, he’s still just the #2 dude keeping the #1 dude’s top spot in the division warm. Even with his 8 year winning streak and that spinning donkey kick to the face of Eddie Wineland, there is no escaping Cruz’s shadow until the two fight. That’ll probably be true regardless of whether or not the UFC really makes Barao champion, but at least the guy can make a little more champ paper in the meantime for doing the champ’s work.
Front-Page Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport