By Adam Martin
The UFC's featherweight division could add another name to its short list of title contenders this weekend at UFC Fight Night 88. Renan Barão, the former UFC Bantamweight Champion, will make his 145-pound debut when he takes on veteran Jeremy Stephens in the co-main event. This fight between two heavy-handed strikers is a perfect introductory fight for Barão into his new weight class, as Stephens is a tough opponent who will test him in the standup, and a win will shoot Barão right into the top 10 of the featherweight division.
Barão, who is an impressive 33-3, 1 NC in his MMA career, went 8-2 in the bantamweight division, becoming the champion when he defeated Urijah Faber for the interim belt while Dominick Cruz was on the shelf, and then defending his belt three times -- against Michael McDonald, Eddie Wineland, and Faber -- the latter defenses occurring after he was promoted to world champion. Unfortunately for Barão, he ran into TJ Dillashaw, and Dillashaw proved a nightmare matchup for the Brazilian, as both times he fought Dillashaw he was brutally knocked out. The second knockout loss, which happened at UFC on FOX 16 last summer, prompted Barão to try his hand at a new weight class.
The losses to Dillashaw, plus a tough weight cut to 135 lbs, make the decision to move to 145 lbs the right call for Barão, although it should be noted he's still ranked in the top three at bantamweight. Like Joseph Benavidez at 125 lbs, if Barão wanted to he could stay at bantamweight and beat up on the majority of fighters in the division, but like Benavidez, he wouldn't get a title shot anytime soon. And facing brutal weight cuts that left him looking like Christian Bale in The Machinist on the scales every time he had to weigh in, Barão correctly chose to move to featherweight, even though he'll likely be waiting for a title shot no matter what happens with Stephens this weekend.
That's because UFC Featherweight Champion Conor McGregor hasn't fought in the division since beating former longtime champ -- and Barão teammate -- Jose Aldo at UFC 194. McGregor doesn't appear to be fighting at 145 lbs anytime soon either, which led the UFC to create an interim title fight between Aldo and Frankie Edgar at UFC 200. Obviously Barão isn't going to fight Aldo, but if Edgar wins, that could set up a possible interim title fight between him and Barão later in this year, obviously depending on what McGregor does. And of course, you can't forget about Max Holloway, who has won eight straight fights since losing to McGregor. But regardless of what happens with other featherweights, an impressive win over Stephens will undoubtedly put Barão in a good spot in the 145-pound division moving forward.
The bantamweight division Barão left is the weight class being showcased this weekend at UFC Fight Night 88, but featherweight is still a strong division, and the addition of Barão only strengthens that. A big win over Stephens will push the former bantamweight champ into the top 10, so it's up to him to go out there now and put on an impressive showing.
UFC Fight Night 88
• Renan Barão vs. Jeremy Stephens
Click the stars to rate your anticipation for this fight.
UFC Fight Night 88: Almeida vs. Garbrandt takes place on May 29, 2016 at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.