Fighting a living legend is not an opportunity that comes often, even more for a fighter slowly moving up the ranks like Mitch Gagnon (12-2). Everyone is counting out Gagnon except the one person who matters — himself. An underdog is an understatement considering he hasn’t even fought lower level elites, so to jump straight into a fight with one of the sport’s dominant figures is a tall task.
With this task comes an opportunity to take advantage of, considering the physcological damage Renan Barao must have gone through losing in to UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw the way he did. Can this be deja vu for the former champ? Gagnon sure thinks so and is willing to match his strengths with Barao’s tonight.
1. Grappling – With a few first round submission victories already in his UFC history, tapping out Roman Salazar and Dustin Kimora, he needs to really go for any submission he can if things hit the ground. Barao is relentless on the ground so in order to win some exchanges, he needs to capitalize on the former champs aggression and quick twitch reactions.
They are both short and powerful fighters so it should be well fought out transitions, and attempts should be coming from all angles. Overall he needs to match Barao’s aggression with his own but also pick his spots carefully.
2. Clinch – Barao’s barrage will only ensue once he has his opponent’s movements down, so Gagnon will need to stay in the pocket and exchange early on to throw his opponents game plan off. His strong game in the clinch can open up many ways this fight can go, if his clinch is superior MMA fans might be seeing another way to dismantle the explosive Brazilian.
Even if it isn’t, it can open up many opportunities for takedown points, points Gagnon should be looking for often. Especially if it goes into the later rounds, which can be doable if he stays focused throughout.
3. Low expectations – Let’s be clear, if you are betting on Gagnon and he pulls this off, consider your vacation paid for. The pressure is not on him to complete the upset, it is all on Barao to avoid being upset once more, in front of his friends and family.
With that thought hovering over the former champ before the fight begins it is sure to throw off his composure a bit. All you need in a fight is an opening, and the instincts or piece of mind to recognize it. Gagnon has those qualities and if all is executed well could potentially change the trajectory of his career and his opponent’s.