SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The toughest part of Thursday's festivities for Renan Barao was being so close to what was once his.
There sat the former UFC bantamweight champion, during a UFC 177 media day at Sleep Train Arena, no more than 15 feet away from current titleholder T.J. Dillashaw. Dillashaw was the fighter with the biggest crowd of reporters and cameras around him, the victor basking in his hometown glory, the star of the show.
And resting on a podium next to Dillashaw was the bantamweight title belt, the one which had been Barao's until Memorial Day weekend, sitting both literally and metaphorically just out of the Brazilian's reach.
"It motivates me a lot," Barao said through an interpreter. "I think about it all day, every day. I want to go over there and get my belt back."
He'll have that opportunity soon enough, as Barao and Dillashaw meet up in the main event of UFC 177, just three months after Dillashaw, as an 8-to-1 underdog, pulled off a jaw-dropping upset with a fifth-round finish in Las Vegas.
Three months ago, Dillashaw was the afterthought in the media day proceedings, and Barao was the unquestioned star of the show. With a 32-fight unbeaten streak going back nine years, it didn't seem a matter of if the Rio de Janeiro resident would finish Dillashaw, but rather, how fast. UFC president Dana White, with a straight face, proclaimed Barao the world's top pound-for-pound fighter, ahead of light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
"I got too comfortable," Barao said. "Did I believe what they said about me? Maybe. I have become humble again."
What happened that night in Las Vegas was, basically, a tail-kicking. Dillashaw utilized tremendous footwork and speed to fluster Barao. He tagged Barao in the first round and nearly finished the fight right then and there. Barao survived that onslaught, and took a beating all the way until the final round before it got waved off.
"He had a really good shot in the first round and that was that," Barao said. "It was his night. Hat's off. I cannot take anything away from his performance."
While there were rumors Barao went through an abnormally bad weight cut the week of UFC 173, he's not about to make excuses. Nor did he spend very much time dwelling after he got home to Brazil. Barao said that with the help of friends, family, and his campmates at the Nova Uniao gym (which includes current UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo), he was able to make a fast pivot away from the sting of defeat.
"It was a quick process," Barao said. "Because of my friends, my family, my teammates, they all rallied around me and wouldn't let me stay down. Everyone gave me the support I needed to move on to my next fight. Once I did, I knew I was ready to take the belt back. You are going to see the same old Barao, I'm going to be very aggressive and I'm going to take my belt back."
As for all the attention being showered on Dillashaw, Barao says he doesn't care. Nor does it matter that Barao, who never had the opportunity to defend the title in his homeland, had to go to Dillashaw's hometown in order to get the rematch.
"It doesn't matter where the fight is," Barao said. "It could be anywhere, you would see the same Renan Barao focused and motivated. All that matters is that I'm going to take the belt home with me."
For his part, Dillashaw expressed surprise that rematch was rebooked as fast as it was. For one thing, there's another potential title fight out there, with contender Rafael Assuncao, whose current six-fight win streak includes a win over Dillashaw.
But Dillashaw also wasn't afraid to state the obvious: That, for Barao, a second loss in three months would make getting another crack at the title an uphill climb at best.
"I don't think he's had enough time to recover," Dillashaw said. "But yeah, when I beat him, he's going to take the long road back. It puts a lot of pressure on him. Everyone keeps asking me about the pressure on myself, but I don't think there's any pressure. He's the one that if he loses, it's the long road. That places all the pressure on him."
On that point, Barao, who had been more or less dismissive of Dillashaw, finally seemed to take offense. Nine-year win streaks, after all, aren't exactly an everyday thing in this sport.
"I was 32 matches undefeated," Barao said. "I wanted this fight. There was no pressure to take a quick fight. I am confident, this fight is going to be different and you all will see on Saturday night.
"Of course I earned my immediate title rematch. I am here to be the champion, why would I want to take any other fight?"
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