UFC 165: Wineland Says Barao “Just Another Man,” “No Reason I Can’t Beat” Interim Champ
By Kelsey Mowatt
Although Eddie Wineland will challenge for the UFC’s interim bantamweight championship on September 21st, it wasn’t long ago when it remained unclear as to whether he, or anyone for that matter, would battle for Renan Barao’s title again. The reason being, of course, that Wineland and Barao were scheduled to fight at UFC 161 on June 15th, but the interim champ was forced to withdraw due to a foot injury. At the time, it wasn’t clear when Barao would be able to fight again, and if a bout with reigning and recovering champ Dominick Cruz might materialize. Wineland’s pivotal opportunity had disappeared without a punch or kick being thrown.
“I was bummed,” Wineland said on a recent media call to promote UFC 165, while discussing the withdrawal of Barao from UFC 161. “It was the culmination of what I’ve worked for the last ten years of my life, and the rug was just pulled right out from under me. It’s the nature of the sport.”
The promotion has been awaiting the return of Cruz now for some time, as due to two knee surgeries, the renowned fighter hasn’t competed since October, 2011.
“Injuries happen, and they told me to keep training as if I were fighting, and as it got delayed longer and longer, the worry (was) that Dominick’s going to come back and that those two were going to fight,”Wineland added. “There were so many different factors in there, that until I got that call that ‘hey, you’re fighting in Canada again’, I was on edge. I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen. The fight I obviously really wanted was Renan, and I’m just happy that he recovered fast, he healed fast, and that he’s 100% healthy and ready to go.”
More recently Cruz has relayed that he hopes to fight again in early 2014, but when the promotion realized that the champ was not going to fight anytime soon, Wineland was re-booked to fight Barao.
“I had heard through Twitter. He had mentioned that his ankle was better and this and that, and immediately we started bantering back-and-forth,” said Wineland. “Then I got on the phone with Sean Shelby and I asked him if it was going to happen, and he didn’t know what was going on yet. In the end it was ‘hey, you’re going to be in Toronto and it’s Renan again,’ so it all fell into place.”
Wineland was booked to fight Barao thanks to a knockout win over Scott Jorgensen and a split decision victory over Brad Pickett, which followed losses to Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez. While Wineland has been a top tier fighter for several years and is a former WEC champ, the 29 year-old will be the consensus underdog heading into UFC 165. Not only has Barao defeated the likes of Faber, Jorgensen and Pickett since arriving in the UFC, but he also holds a submission win over the top ranked Michael McDonald. In addition, the 26 year-old has gone undefeated in 31 straight bouts and holds the #7 position in the UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings.
“His win streak is amazing,” said Wineland, while discussing Barao’s awe inspiring run. “He’s got what? 30 fight win streak? That being said, he hasn’t fought me yet. He’s going to see where his win streak stands.”
“It hasn’t entered my head at all,” added Wineland. “He’s just another man. He puts his pants on one leg at a time just like I do. There’s no reason I can’t beat him.”
UFC 165 will be hosted by Toronto’s Air Canada Centre and will feature light-heavyweight champ Jon Jones taking on Alexander Gustafsson in the main event.