The way Eddie Wineland is looking at things, Renan Barao might be holding on to a belt, but he’s just renting it. And for that matter, Dominick Cruz, too.
Wineland (20-8-1 MMA, 2-2 UFC) was hoping for a title shot. He did the things guys do when they want one – he re-tweeted fans’ Twitter comments to him telling him and UFC President Dana White that he should be next in line. But mostly, he talked with his fists.
Wineland this past June became the first person to knock out Scott Jorgensen. And then he further put himself at the forefront when he beat Brad Pickett at UFC 155 in December. That Pickett long has been one of White’s favorite fighters to watch maybe helped his cause, too.
Earlier this month, he got the call for his next fight, and it was the best-case scenario. Wineland will meet interim bantamweight champion Barao (30-1 MMA, 5-0 UFC) in the main event of UFC 161 on June 15 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
It’s a shot at redemption for Wineland. He was the first 135-pound champion in World Extreme Cagefighting history. He beat Antonio Banuelos for the belt at WEC 20. But in his first defense, he dropped a decision to Chase Beebe at WEC 26 in the second show after Zuffa purchased the promotion.
Beebe lost the title to Miguel Torres, Torres lost it to Brian Bowles, Bowles lost it to Cruz, and now Cruz is sidelined and may be through much of 2013 – which necessitated the interim belt in the first place, which Barao won in a fight against Urijah Faber.
But all those titleholders, and Wineland believes he’s merely going after what’s his in June, anyway.
“That’s my belt originally from the WEC days,” Wineland told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “Now it’s my time to put it in the hands of the original owner.”
Wineland closed out his WEC career with four straight wins, including back-to-back “Knockout of the Night” bonuses. But his first tests in the UFC were stiff ones.
He won the first round against Faber in the co-main event of UFC 128 in what was a title eliminator. But he couldn’t stop Faber’s takedowns in the second and third and dropped a 29-28 unanimous decision. His next fight out was against Faber teammate Joseph Benavidez, who seemed to be just a little quicker to the punch against him all night in a sweep of the scorecards.
But the Indiana resident bounced back in a big way with the Jorgensen win, then Pickett, and those two wins over Top 10 bantamweights, combined with what the UFC would have to consider quality losses to Faber and Benavidez, have him right at the top ready for Barao.
“Barao poses a lot of problems, but I’m ready for them,” he said. “He’s never fought someone like me. I’m going to push the pace, get in his face and make him fight my fight.”
Barao, of course, is the owner of a remarkable 31-fight unbeaten streak. In February, he stopped Michael McDonald with a fourth-round rear-naked choke in his first defense of the interim belt. And with Cruz obviously not back before summer, the UFC elected to keep Barao busy while figuring out what will happen next with Cruz.
But that gives Wineland what will be an extensive camp to go after what first was his, even though it was seven years ago.
“I’m extremely excited and have three months to prepare,” he said. “This will be my longest and best training camp – I’ll be better prepared for this fight than any of the others.
“Fighting for the belt is as big as it gets – it’s what everyone in MMA wants the most: the UFC belt, the most prized possession in MMA.”
Wineland’s been without it for seven years, but he just believes getting it back has always been inevitable.
For the latest on UFC 161, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.