Future Contenders: Barao at the top

Brazilian Renan Barao might be just one fight away from a title shot

Originally Published: April 18, 2012
By Adam Hill | ESPN Insider
Renan Barao and Rod Mar for ESPN.comIt is little surprise that Barao is a lethal striker with UFC champ Jose Aldo as a training partner.

LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHTS | WELTERWEIGHTS | LIGHTWEIGHTS | BANTAMWEIGHTS

Evaluating the top UFC future title contender in the bantamweight division comes down to whether youth and potential are more valuable than one of the most proven track records of success in the entire sport.

The victories win out this time.

Renan Barao lands in the top spot on the list, largely due to his insane stretch of 29 fights without a loss since dropping his professional debut back in 2005.

The 25-year-old Brazilian has 28 wins and one draw since the setback. Barao, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and training partner of featherweight champion Jose Aldo, has found success mostly through his sensational ground game.

He has shown an ability to at least hold his own in the stand-up, as well.

Barao picked up a pair of submission wins in World Extreme Cagefighting before coming over when the organization was merged into the UFC. He has picked up right where he left off. Though two of his wins have gone the distance, Barao has quickly moved into title contention with three victories in the last year. He will look to solidify that future title shot against either Urijah Faber or longtime champion Dominick Cruz when Barao takes on Ivan Menjivar on July 7. Cruz will defend the belt against Faber at the same event.

A win by Barao could very well mean he is next for the winner of the title fight. This list focuses on fighters who have the best chance to work their way into contention for the UFC bantamweight title in the future.

Here is the ESPN Insider list of "Future Contenders" in the Bantamweight Division. The "Future Contenders" series focuses on fighters in every weight class who have the best chance to work their way into a UFC title shot down the road. Eligible fighters are those who:

1. Have not held a UFC belt in the weight class

2. Have not previously fought for a UFC title in the weight class

Fighters need not currently be in the UFC to qualify, but they must be active. Also, holding a title or having fought for a title in another fight league does not disqualify.

Here are other prospects for the bantamweight division: