LONDON -- After a night of few finishes, but a number of exciting and entertaining bouts, UFC on Fuel TV 7 ended with a solid submission win from the interim bantamweight champ Renan Barao against Michael McDonald.
Though the Brazilian didn't at first appear as sharp or explosive as he had in his previous UFC fights, perhaps in part to McDonald's speed and skills, Barao turned up the heat when he saw the chance, defending his belt like a true champion and sinking in a bonus-winning arm-triangle choke in the fourth round.
"I'm a BJJ black belt. I know I have a good ground game and I knew he was feeling the pain," Barao said, explaining why he refused to give up on the choke even though his opponent seemed to be fine.
"I learned the difference between where I am now and where I want to be," McDonald said. "Today, Barao was the better martial artist," said McDonald.
While McDonald clearly proved he belongs at the top of the division, troubling the interim champ a few times with his power, it was Barao who really made a statement at Wembley Arena.
Showing a versatile skill set and an ability to evolve his strategy as the fight progressed, Barao's win streak extended to an impressive 20 victories. His submission over McDonald acted as both a proclamation to the rest of the division as well as a sharp reminder for the still injured Dominick Cruz.
"Dominick is terrified right now," UFC president Dana White said. "All you guys have been reporting that I said he's going to have to retire and that is not what I said so I've been having to explain to him what's going on. We're hoping that Dominick will be ready for the summer so he can face Barao. That's the plan."
Barao is a tough fight for anyone, especially as he continues to add to his already impressive set of skills, but it's an even tougher fight for Cruz returning from such a long layoff. There's no doubt it'll be a fantastic clash of styles, but against a fighter as determined as Barao has been to maintain his championship gold, Cruz's return to the Octagon will be a big ask.
Swanson happy just to entertain the fans
Cub Swanson once again showed an aggression and passion for his work against Dustin Poirier as he fought his way to a well-earned unanimous decision. Sporting a pair of shades to the post-fight press conference, Swanson revealed that it's all about the fights at this point in his career.
"After my injury I realized all this could go away and be over just like that," Swanson said. "I'm not messing around anymore. Every fight I fight like it's my last.”
While many are thinking Swanson's gritty victory over Poirier likely places him near the top of the title shot pile, the Team Jackson fighter wasn't fazed by the prospect.
"I am just happy to entertain the crowd," Swanson said. "I don't care where I am in terms of the title right now. I just want to go in and give the best performances I can and be the best fighter I can be."
It's an admirable principle for Swanson, but in terms of Joe Silva's matchmaking and the fans' desire to see Jose Aldo constantly tested, Swanson's hard work and aggressive instincts definitely have him on the radar as a potential challenger.
A tough night for the Brits
It was not the best night for the British fans and their native fighters. Well, all except one.
While the hugely popular Paul Sass and Terry Etim struggled to mount much offense in their respective bouts -- both losing by unanimous decision for their second straight defeat -- Tom Watson stood up and stamped his mark on the middleweight division.
Displaying a fantastic strategy against Stanislav Nedkov, Watson took control early on in the fight. Though he was nearly stopped at the end of the first round, his reply brought the crowd to their feet. He shrugged off Nedkov's ground and pound and came out in the second with a renewed vigour, employing a brutal clinch game to take the victory deep in the second round.
"People who fight him are scared of him," Watson said. "I wanted to push the pace and show him that I'm not scared.”
After a display that earned him two bonuses, Watson then set about calling out TRT users in his post-fight interview, explaining that he felt too many fighters were using it unfairly.
"You can't put TRT on your chin or in your heart," Watson said. "I've got a big heart and I'm happy to fight any one these guys."
While Watson's opinions chimed with White's thoughts on TRT, it was the British middleweight's rugged and tough performance that earned him the plaudits from the fans and the UFC itself. Watson laid out a marker for the rest of the up-and-coming 185ers.
Bonuses, Bits and Bobs
The UFC once again broke records in the UK, taking an impressive $1.3 million on the gate and seeing 10,349 die-hard fans pack Wembley Arena.
Watson took home honors for both fight and knockout of the night, earning him $100,000 in bonuses. Barao took home $50,000 for submission of the night.
Though there were only two finishes on the entire card, White said that "if the fans are happy, I'm happy. And the fans seemed happy tonight."
As usual, White fielded plenty of questions about more events, including both Brazil and the British Isles.
"Brazil is the hottest market right now, Lorenzo [Fertitta] will be spending a lot of time down there working on setting up the infrastructure," White said, before answering similar enquiries about the UK. "I keep telling you, Garry Cook is the man. He is buttoning up the TV deal here and we're looking at setting up a three-year plan for venues all over the country."
Clearly the UFC expansion is not slowing down anytime soon.