If McDonald was feeling the pressure of potentially emerging as the youngest champion in UFC history, he wasn’t showing it. Renan Barao has earned himself a pretty fearsome reputation during his UFC/WEC run, and indeed his career in general. He has had 31 fights and lost one - his very first. With one no-contest, that meant he carried a 19-fight win streak into the contest.
Some hesitancy was to be expected on McDonald’s part as he sized up his experienced opponent and sought to become only the second of 32 antagonists to take a win over him. In the event this translated into something of a countering game, with McDonald looking to score off the forward flurries which Barao is well known for.
There was plenty of circling as well, but not of the kind that spoils fights and makes them a letdown. Rather they were tense interludes between explosions of massive violence. At times it was like watching a nature documentary; two rival males bristling at distance before flying at each other in a whirlwind of savagery. Fast and heavy exchanges led to lightning-fast scrambles and reversals of position before they would break away from each other and go back to eyeballing and circling, sizing up their next move.
Barao attempted to get the fight to the floor numerous times but found it hard; McDonald’s takedown defense was exemplary. But the multi-talented Barao had other tricks up his sleeve, including his infamous spin kick. Several efforts missed but one, in the third round, landed square on McDonald’s nose and backed him right up.
The closeness of the first round gave way to Barao increasingly edging ahead and by the third and fourth he was taking control of the stand-up. Late in the fourth he managed at last to get McDonald down and transitioned right into an arm-triangle. McDonald gritted it out, giving referee Marc Goddard the thumbs-up several times, but Barao hung on and inched round to make the hold tighter. Seconds ticked by, the arena almost silent, when suddenly McDonald felt the darkness engulfing him and started tapping frantically.
Barao retains the UFC interim bantamweight championship and extends his winning run to an astonishing 20 fights. McDonald becomes another name on his record - albeit the second to take him past the third round - but also emerges as a serious talent with a solid-gold future. At 22 years old, he has the best part of a decade between now and entering his prime; its going to be a thrilling thing to witness.