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While waiting on the sidelines for his ACL to heal, UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz has been impressed by interim champ Renan Barao.

Most recently Barao submitted Michael McDonald with an arm-triangle choke Saturday at UFC on Fuel TV 7.

“He’s proven to be the best guy in the division underneath me,” Cruz told the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown” show. “He’s proven that. It’s been impressive how he’s been winning.”

Cruz expected Barao to get past McDonald. With that said, though, he did give McDonald a chance in the early rounds due to his punching power.

“I was giving him the best chance to maybe put Barao down with one of those punches, but I kind of had a feeling McDonald was going to get stuck on the headhunt with Barao,” Cruz said. “[Barao’s] got a very tight defense. You’ve got to open him up. You can’t just look for that one-punch knockout because Barao’s got very good boxing fundamentals and he understands boxing really well. You can’t just throw a one-punch knockout and land it. You’ve got to set up your big punches. You’ve got to throw punches in bunches. You’ve got to go to the body to lower the guard from the head.”

McDonald did hurt Barao early, but the Brazilian took over the fight before finishing it 3:57 into the fourth round.

“There’s a lot that’s got to go on to break down a guy like Barao, to be able to trick him and get through his defense, and I think also on top of that, Barao was twice the size of McDonald in there really,” Cruz said. “He’s a big [bantamweight]. He’s cutting a lot of weight, I think, and that definitely had a big part to play. Once he got that bodylock, McDonald wasn’t going anywhere. He took him right down with that quickly and just controlled him.”

Despite the loss, Cruz was complimentary of McDonald. He believes the 22-year-old will only improve from going into the championship rounds with Barao, though Barao of course is the man Cruz looks forward to fighting when he’s healthy.

“I look forward to testing myself against him,” Cruz said. “He’s a very worthy opponent and it’s going to be a fun fight. It’s one of those fights where it’s a new puzzle to figure out. Nobody’s been able to do it for over 19 fights now with Barao, and I would love that opportunity.”

Listen to the full interview (beginning at 1:50:35).

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