TORONTO – If UFC interim bantamweight champ Renan Barao is tiring of the temporary label attached to his belt, he’s not publicly complaining. For the even-keeled Brazilian, it seems whatever is meant to be will be.
“My life is always step by step,” Barao told MMAjunkie.com through an interpreter. “My focus is on Eddie Wineland, and I don’t think about what’s next. I don’t care about what’s next. My focus is on Saturday.”
Barao (30-1 MMA, 5-0 UFC) meets Wineland (20-8-1 MMA, 2-2 UFC) in the co-main event of Saturday’s UFC 165 event, which takes place at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre and airs on pay-per-view. Barao’s interim belt will be on the line, and he’ll hope to successfully defend it a second time.
Oddsmakers favor him heavily to do exactly that, installing him as a 7-to-1 favorite over Wineland, a former WEC titleholder.
Wineland’s chance at victory would seem to come through his crisp striking ability, but Barao doesn’t seem overly concerned.
“He’s a tough guy, a great fighter, a great boxer – but he’s not the best striker I’ve ever fought,” Barao said. “I’ve fought very tough guys in the past, and this will just be another tough fight.”
Many fans seem to feel the same, focusing more on what happens next for Barao rather than what takes place on Saturday night. UFC bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz has been on the shelf for nearly two years, forcing the installation of the belt Barao has now held for 14 months.
Barao backers have suggested it’s time for Cruz to give up the title so the Brazilian can enjoy full champion status, but the 26-year-old with the incredible 30-fight winning streak said he’s not concerned with the UFC’s decision.
“It’s not up to me,” Barao said. “That’s what everybody says, that I’m the champ, but it doesn’t depend on me. It depends on the UFC, so whatever the UFC does, I have to comply with. It’s my job.”
UFC President Dana White has said the he expects Cruz to be healthy enough to fight in early 2014, setting up a title unification fight with the winner of Saturday’s Barao vs. Wineland interim title bout. Inside, Barao likely yearns for that moment. After all, who wouldn’t prefer to be an officially recognized champ rather than a belt-holder of the interim variety? But on the outside, Barao is deflecting any such talk.
“I don’t really care about that,” Barao said. “My job is to train; it’s to fight. The UFC will direct what happens. It’s not up to me. I don’t care.
“For now, I feel great. I’m well-prepared, and I’m expecting to provide a great show on Saturday.”
For more on UFC 165, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.