Just 24 hours after UFC officials confirmed several UFC 161 bouts for June 15 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, company president Dana White has confirmed that interim UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barão will put his belt on the line in the main event.
Still waiting for champion Dominick Cruz to return from injury, Barão will defend the interim strap for the second time when he faces Eddie Wineland, according to a tweet by ESPN reporter Bret Okamoto. UFC officials later confirmed the bout.
Barão's coach and manager, Andre Pederneiras also confirmed the fight to MMAWeekly.com, although he said that, “If Dominick (could) not come back this year, I don't understand why he still (has) his belt. Renan deserves (the official title) more than him.”
Barão (30-1) won the interim championship with a five-round unanimous decision victory over Urijah Faber at UFC 149 last summer in Calgary, after it was determined that Cruz’s timeline for recovery was too uncertain to wait for his recovery.
Barão briefly held out hope that Cruz might return soon enough that the two could unify the belt in the early part of this year, but various setbacks have left Cruz sidelined with a still uncertain future.
Michael McDonald stepped into the title picture during that time, challenging Barão in the UFC on Fuel TV 8 main event. McDonald put up an amazing fight, but Barão ultimately won the war, submitting McDonald late in the fourth round.
Barão has not lost a fight since his first professional bout in 2005, and doesn’t intend to change that on June 15.
Wineland (20-8-1) had a four-fight winning streak derailed by back-to-back decision losses to Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez when he made the jump to the UFC, but has since bounced back.
He knocked Scott Jorgensen out at UFC on FX 3, and then followed that up with a split decision victory over Brad Pickett at UFC 155 to close out 2012.
Wineland mentioned after beating Pickett that he just wanted to fight whomever put him closer to the belt, but now finds himself fighting for the belt and couldn't be happier.
“Thank you a million times over @danawhite @ufc @seanshelby for this opportunity! It's my time now!!!” he tweeted.