The Changing of the Brazilian Bantamweight Guard

Fightland Blog

By Peter Carroll

Photo by Christian Petersen/Zuffa LLC

It’s strange to see another bantamweight duo at the top of a UFC card with Renan Barao playing a supporting role. At UFC Fight Night 88 in Las Vegas, surging Brazilian bantamweight Thomas Almeida is set to take on fellow divisional front-runner Cody Garbrandt in the main event of the evening, a bout in which a future title contender should emerge.

The unbeaten Brazilian, Almeida, currently holds the seventh spot in the UFC’s 135 lbs rankings. Although Garbrandt is unranked at the moment, a win over his counterpart would surely see him leap frog a lot of contenders given Almieda’s proximity to the title.

Before that, Barao will have to reestablish himself in a new bracket. Since losing the title in May 2014 to TJ Dillashaw, the former champion’s stock has steadily plummeted. Following his emphatic victory over Urijah Faber to claim the interim bantamweight title, Barao became one of the most celebrated fighters in the world.

Now, however, coming off his second one-sided loss to Dillashaw, the Nova Uniao man has to prove he is capable of rising to the higher echelons of another division.

Almeida’s Rise Coincided with Barao’s Fall

In the absence of bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, Renan Barao’s victories over Urijah Faber, Michael McDonald, and Eddie Wineland clearly marked him out as the best fighter on the UFC’s book at 135 lbs. When he was booked to meet TJ Dillashaw at UFC 173, nobody outside of Dillashaw and his Team Alpha Male stable mates really saw him winning the fight.

With superior movement and striking, Dillashaw pulled off one of the greatest shocks the sport had ever scene when he finished the Brazilian in the fifth round of their bout. Even after the loss, a lot of people believed Barao would bounce back with a win when they were penned in to fight at UFC 177, three months after the initial bout.

Photo by Rey Del Rio/Zuffa LLC

When Barao had to be pulled from the fight a little over a day before they were set to meet as he was hospitalized during his weight cut, his stock plummeted to an all time low. Two months later, Legacy bantamweight champion Almeida made his debut in Uberlandia.

Tom Gorman proved a sturdy challenge, but Almeida’s class shined through as he landed twice the amount of strikes his opponent managed. Working the body, legs and head, the Chute Boxe man’s dynamic performance turned a lot of heads and was enough to win both men a ‘Fight of the Night’ bonus.

A month later, Barao was relatively unimpressive in his tune-up fight with a game Mitch Gagnon. Although he transitioned beautifully to finish a head and arm choke in the third round, the display lacked the stamp that had been put on his three title defenses before his loss to Dillashaw.

Before Barao’s eventual rematch with Dillashaw, Almeida underlined his pedigree in the striking department with wins over veterans Yves Jabouin and Brad Pickett. After being rocked from a flying knee of the Brit’s, Almeida finished the bout with one of his own in what was the most spectacular stoppages on the UFC 189 card.

Barao suffered an even more emphatic loss to Dillashaw when they met two weeks later in Chicago. Almeida added to the buzz surrounding him with a first round knockout of Anthony Birchak four months later in Brazil.

Aggression versus ‘Neo-Footwork’

Garbrandt is the toughest test of Almeida’s young career, but should he come away with a win it will make for some fanastic matchups at the top of the bantamweight division. The two top fighters in the division, Dominick Cruz and TJ Dillashaw, are proponents of the ‘neo-footwork’ movement, and fans would be very intrigued to see how Almeida’s aggressive style would fare against the elusive approaches of both men.

The Chute Boxe standout tends to get hit quite a lot when he is plying his trade. In nearly ever single one of his four UFC bouts he has come into some trouble, but in saying that, Almeida has always rallied and managed to outwork his opponents and put them a considerable danger in doing so.

Brazilian fans praised Barao’s aggressive style and Almeida certainly brings the same kind of reckless abandon to contests as his countryman. With Dominick Cruz now at the helm of the bracket, followed closely by a man who bested ‘The Baron’ on two occasions, Almeida rising to the top of the 135 lbs division may be even more impressive than Barao’s ascension should he managed to pull it off.

Garbrandt shares the same lofty ambitions as his future opponent and has proven his knockout power by stopping all but one of his eight opponents to date. Both men’s style make for an exciting clash, and for that reason, it isn’t too surprising that they have been given top billing over Barao and Stephens. 


Check out these related stories:

The Fall of Renan Barão

Thomas Almeida: Reawaking the Dominance of Chute Boxe