Renan Barao had a solid effort in his featherweight debut Sunday night at UFC Fight Night 88, but it wasn’t enough against the power striking game from Jeremy Stephens.
Stephens pulled off a unanimous decision with a very strong second round and a competitive enough third to edge the fight two rounds to one, handing Barao his third loss in four fights after a nine year unbeaten streak.
Barao started strong in the first round. He was fast, effective, and looked like the lack of weight cut was rejuvenating. He landed several significant combinations, beat Stephens to the punch, and avoided most of the counter-strikes that were sent his way. Things then changed in the second, as Stephens hurt Barao badly with a huge uppercut early in the round. Barao got slower, flat-footed, and struggled as he continued to fail on his takedown attempts.
He finally secured a takedown in the third after recovering between rounds, but he wasn’t able to hold Stephens there long. Though the striking exchanges in the third were fairly even – Barao certainly had a case for taking that final frame – it was the power strikes and damage from Stephens that scored most with all three judges, giving him the nod, and the decision win.
Stephens is now 5-3 in eight featherweight appearances, and bounces back from a decision loss to Max Holloway from December. Barao is back to the drawing board, and his future is a question mark out of the event.
[Photo (c) Gary A. Vasquez via USA Today Sports]
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