When a fighter goes more than a decade without experiencing the bitter taste of defeat the way Renan Barao had going into UFC 173 back in May, there is a sense of complacency that can settle in.
Not to say the former bantamweight king had overlooked the young upstart in T.J. Dillashaw in any way, but a run of dominance can lead a fighter to believe he's invincible, where every opponent who steps into the cage across from him is going to crumble eventually.
On that night in Las Vegas, not only did the Team Alpha Male standout not wither or fade, he defied the odds with a near-flawless performance. Up until that point, no other fighter had backed Barao into troubled waters, but at UFC 173, Dillashaw was pouring it on and not letting his foot up off the gas.
The end result was one of the biggest upsets in recent UFC history and seeing a fighter who had rapidly ascended into the pound-for-pound rankings being turned back in punishing fashion. That said, combat sports are a realm where second chances can yield remarkable turnabouts, and "The Baron" is determined to take back what was lost at the hands of Dillashaw.
The Nova Uniao-trained former champion has his focus locked on reclaiming the 135-pound strap and resuming his run atop the bantamweight division when the two fighters collide at UFC 177 this Saturday night in Sacramento, California. The 27-year-old Natal, Brazil, native took the loss against Dillashaw as a wake-up call that he has used to light the fires of motivation on his charge back to the top.
Barao intends to return to the Octagon this Saturday night and unleash a man possessed on the newly minted champion—and in the process of doing so get back the bantamweight title that brought him to the pinnacle of the sport.
"That belt means everything to me," Barao told Bleacher Report. "It means everything for my whole career. It is my dream to have the belt, and it represents what fighting is about to me. Being the champion means everything.
"I'm a completely different fighter now with my motivation. I'm more focused and sharp with my training and far more motivated to get my belt back. But in the fight, I'm going to be the same Renan Barao as always. I'm going to enter the Octagon and move forward looking to knock him out and get my belt back."
There has been a rift between the two fighter's camps for several years now as leading members of the respective squads have squared off a handful of times in high-profile tilts. Immediately following Dillashaw's upset over Barao, associates of the TAM camp took to social media and other avenues poking fun at the fallen champion's performance. These barbs immediately sparked the ire of Barao's close friend and teammate, featherweight champion Jose Aldo, and a back-and-forth began on social media.
While Barao admits he did his best to keep his head above the fray and keep his attention locked on preparing for the rematch, the slights certainly provided an additional spark to a desire for redemption that was already raging.
"I'm always trying to not focus on things like that," Barao said. "I'm always trying to focus on my training camp, but of course, their trash talking only motivated me to train harder. That's it. At the end of this fight, I will have my arm raised, and I will be the true champion once again. You'll see."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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