CALGARY – With UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz still uncertain when he'll return to action, UFC president Dana White believes new interim champ Renan Barao (29-1 MMA, 4-0 UFC) will defend his title before the belts are unified.
White revealed the tentative plan following Saturday night's UFC 149 event in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where Barao downed Urijah Faber (26-6 MMA, 2-2 UFC) to claim the interim title.
"Renan's not injured at all," White said. "He'll fight again. He's not hurt, and we'll see what happens."
Cruz is currently sidelined after undergoing a June surgery to repair a blown ACL. While White is optimistic the champion will return at full strength, he pointed to injured welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre, who will miss almost one full year due to a similar procedure, as proof of the length of time it may take for Cruz to return.
"Look at how long GSP's been out," White said. "They had the same exact surgery."
For his part, the new interim champ seemed open to all options, putting to rest some of the pre-fight speculation that he would elect to wait for Cruz rather than defend the interim title against a new challenger.
"I'm an employee of the UFC," Barao told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
) through an interpreter. "I'll fight whenever they ask me to."
At 4-0 in the UFC and after defeating Miguel Torres in his most recent appearance, 21-year-old Michael McDonald would seem to be the leading candidate to face Barao.
Mike Easton boasts a 3-0 mark in the octagon but lacks a signature win. Raphael Assuncao and Eddie Wineland are each coming off of victories but haven't put together the type of sustained winning streak you'd expect from someone challenging for a title, even if it is of the interim variety. Yves Jabouin boasts three-straight wins but is already booked to face Brad Pickett in late September.
However, White declined to speculate on who could potentially challenge Barao.
"I haven't even thought about it," White admitted.
That said, the UFC boss said he was impressed with Barao's win over Faber and does expect him to fight again before Cruz returns.
"Barao looked like a beast," White said. "Barao dominated one of the best guys ever in that weight division in mixed martial arts.
"If Barao or Faber or Cruz all believe they're the best in the world, they should defend the title. Because whether you do it now or do it after Cruz, you're going to do it anyway. Whoever's next, you're going to fight him."