Mike Easton: Renan Barao Can’t “Babysit” the Belt, Would Fight Teammate Dominick Cruz

UFC bantamweight Mike Easton (13-1, MMA) has been on a tear this year handing defeats to both Ivan Menjivar and Jared Papazian. His win over Papazian on UFC on FX: Guillard vs Miller was a closely contested decision where Easton came out ahead with a majority decision. His unanimous decision victory over Menjivar at UFC 148 gave Easton a signature win over one of the division’s top performers.

Easton’s striving to keep the momentum rolling when he takes on his next challenger Raphael Assuncao (17-4, MMA) at UFC on FOX 5 on the FX preliminary card. Assuncao is a veteran of the sport and the WEC who has won his last two UFC fights. In August last year, Assuncao began competing at 135 lbs, after spending most of his career at featherweight. He’s also a very crafty Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practicioner and “The Hulk” is ready for that.

It was only announced last week that Assuncao had stepped up to face Easton, giving both fighters only a couple weeks notice to get set for the matchup. Easton has had three different opponents on tap for this fight. First, TJ Dillashaw was originally set to scrap with Easton, then CB Dollaway. Both withdrew due to injuries. Easton said it doesn’t matter who stands opposite of him inside the Octagon.

“I just train. I train all the time anyway. But it doesn’t matter who they put in front of me, I have a game plan that I’m going to follow and it just is what it is. You could put Chuck Liddell in front of me, you could put Alistair Overeem in front of me, I’m going to do my game plan and that’s to fight and keep that pace up.”

Still training with his coach and manger, Master Lloyd Irvin, a 3rd degree Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt, Easton said they anticipate any and every situation that could unravel in a fight. In this camp, Easton’s also working with Mike Van Arsdale on his wrestling. Easton believes his well-rounded skill set and a win over Assuncao should get him closer to challenging for the bantamweight title.

“Everyone knows about how good our Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is. Our striking is unbelievable, especially coming out of the Washington, D.C. area. So it doesn’t matter to me [who my opponent is]. And I have good Judo, I’m good at Sambo, I’m just an all-around fighter and I’m ready to prove to the world I’m definitely one of the best. I’m looking forward to getting that title at some point and time,” Easton said.

To prepare for this fight, Easton told MMA Fight Corner Friday night that he isn’t down in San Diego, CA training with Alliance MMA. While he still trains with the camp and teammate UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, he said he prefers getting into beast mode for his fights closer to where it all started, back home in Maryland.

“I like the vibe here. I love San Diego, I love to go out there and train, and to help Dom, and to help the fighters there, but when it’s time for my camp I like to stay here, I like to stay at home. Because like I say, around this area, we have a really grimy style, we’re real grimy when it comes to fighting and that’s what I believe that I need. You know San Diego, although they train really, really hard, it’s so laid back out there in California and I like it. I like being laid back, but when it’s time to work, I gotta go home.”

Easton has been on an 8-fight win streak and has yet to be defeated inside the Octagon. His last loss was in 2007 to Reynaldo Walter Duarte via TKO due to injury. To this day, Easton contends that it wasn’t a loss.

“It was one of those things that happened, a freak accident. He was throwing a kick, and I was going to catch the kick. I hit him with a nice cross. Actually, I almost knocked him out. I stuffed two takedowns with a broken elbow and it just got to the point where I was talking to Master Lloyd while the fight’s going on; he’s on top of me punching me, but I’m talking to Master Lloyd like ‘I don’t know what’s going on, my arm’s not working’. Of course, you have to stop the fight, of course for my safety so I don’t injure myself further. But you know how it is, that type of stuff happens, freak accident. As far as I look at it, I’m undefeated.”

With a in-your-face fight style that pushes the pace, Easton said he’s one of the most powerful strikers in the bantamweight division. Like every serious competitor, Easton wants to prove to the UFC, fans and everyone in his division that he’s worthy of a title shot. Based on his sparring sessions with Cruz, Easton knows a fight between the two of them would not only be a high-octane, action-packed bout, but it would make history.

“If you guys could see us spar…man it’s a war every single time. And it’s his style versus my style every time we spar and it’s a good time, and so we enjoy it, we just enjoy training. Of course you know, he’s the champ. If I keep doing my job right, which I am, we’re going to have to face each other. We already know that. And that right there will be history in the making for two teammates to fight for the title. That’s something that’s never, ever been done before and that’s something that me and him are both looking forward to,” said Easton.

But Cruz is currently recovering from an ACL injury and there is no set timetable for his return. In the meantime, Brazilian Renan Barao (29-1, 1 NC, MMA) became the UFC’s interim bantamweight champion by defeating Urijah Faber at UFC 149 in July. Five months have passed since and Barao hasn’t defended the interim title yet. Though UFC President Dana White said following UFC 154 that they were in talks to have him defend the belt, possibly against Michael McDonald (15-1, MMA), nothing’s transpired yet.

Easton gave his thoughts on the current situation with the bantamweight division:

“Right now, everything that’s happening in the 135 division, it’s like, it’s crazy because you have all these top guys that are fighting each other right now. These guys have to fight each other to see where the placement is. As far as me, I’m just going to do what I have to do, and right now my focus is on my fight for next week. And that’s what I’m focused on and that’s what I’m going to do, that’s my job right now.

“Now, as far as Renan Barao saying he’s going to hold onto the belt and wait – no, he can’t babysit the belt. Me personally, I’m like, ‘No, you can’t do that buddy’. Our job is to fight, our job is to put on a show for the fans – that’s what they pay for and the UFC pays us to fight. So you can’t babysit the belt unless you’re hurt or you’re injured. And if you’re hurt or you’re injured, I’m pretty sure you’re going to have to give that belt up and that’s just what it is.

“I agree with Dana White. If Michael McDonald is next in line to fight Renan Barao, well that’s who’s next in line to fight Renan Barao. My chance and opportunity is going to come and you guys are going to definitely see me fight those top of the line guys real soon. That’s just is what it is.

“I’m a patient fellow, I’m not in a rush. I’m enjoying fighting in the UFC and that’s what I’m going to do. I’ve had two years off so I’m taking my time and I’m going to enjoy it.”

UFC on FOX 5 takes place on December 8 from the Key Arena in Seattle, WA. The event will be headlined by a lightweight title bout between Benson Henderson and Nate Diaz. The Facebook Fights start at approximately 3:30pm ET/12:30pm PT. FX prelims kick off at 5pm ET/2pm PT and the main card on FOX begins at 8pm ET/5pm PT.


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