Eighteen-year-old Renan Barão had big plans. He came from a broken home and wanted to repay his grandparents, his aunt and his too-young mother for all they had done to make him the man he had become.
He would win fights, make big money, perhaps become a star, and give the family a life it couldn't have imagined.
This is a guy whose bed once was a plank supported by a couple of cinder blocks that was set on the roof of a building, exposed to the elements.
He didn't know a lot about the world, but he knew that there was more out there than he was experiencing.
His father abandoned the family when he was young and his mother, a child herself, wasn't able to properly take care of him.
He discovered boxing at 14, mixed martial arts at 15 and knew that the sport would be his ticket to salvation. Things came easily to him. He wasn't like most of the boys – weak, uncertain and unconfident. He was smooth, agile and had a knack for making the right move at the right time.
A couple of months past his 18th birthday would be the start. He turned pro and was going to set about the process of righting all that had been wrong in his life – of giving his family what it really didn't know it was missing.
And then, well, Renan Barão lost. He dropped a three-round decision to Joao Paulo that is noteworthy only for what came after: An extraordinary win streak and the fulfillment of pretty much every one of Barão dreams.
That loss, which could have been so devastating, hardly bothered him.
"I knew what I was capable of and I knew I just had to do a little better," Barão said.
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He's done more than a little better. He's 30-1 with one no-contest and is in the midst of an 18-fight winning streak – the longest active streak in MMA.
Since the loss he's fulfilled all his dreams but one, and he'll get a chance to fulfill that dream on Saturday when he meets Urijah Faber for the interim bantamweight title in the main event of UFC 149 at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.
Meeting an icon like Faber is no big deal to him because, even at 18, he always expected it.
"I had a belief in myself that if I did what I was taught and I worked hard, I would be able to [beat anyone]," he said
He was hardly shocked to be fighting for the title, but he was shocked by the manner in which he got the spot.
Faber was coaching on "The Ultimate Fighter Live" opposite champion Dominick Cruz. The heated rivals were supposed to meet in a rubber match in the co-main event of UFC 148 in Las Vegas on July 7.
Barão was in Brazil training for his own fight when he was told to pack a suitcase and hurriedly get ready for a trip to Las Vegas.
Unbeknownst to Barão, Cruz was injured in training and UFC president Dana White planned to announce Barão as Cruz's replacement.
But for whatever reason, White was obsessed with keeping the news secret until it aired on the television show. He was deceptive even with Faber.
It seemed obvious with Cruz out that the logical opponent for Faber was Barão, but White refused to confirm that.
"When it all comes down to it, it doesn't matter when I found out," Faber said. "But Dana did a great job of keeping that secret."
He even kept it from Barão, who didn't know why he had to make the long trip to Las Vegas on such notice until moments before he walked from backstage and was introduced live on FX as Faber's opponent.
"I didn't know if we were having meetings or talking [contract] or what it was about," Barão said. "When we got to [the TUF Gym], I was even more confused. I said, 'Is this the TUF Gym? Why am I here?' I didn't really know what was going on."
Despite his record and high-profile wins over the likes of Scott Jorgensen and Brad Pickett, Barão isn't a household name in MMA. The popular Faber, as a result, has had to carry the promotion.
And though Barão respects Faber, he also believes that Faber won't have to carry the show much longer.
When the bell rings, he said, the world will find out what he knew years ago: He is destined to become a champion.
"For many years, I've dreamed of this and believed it would come if I kept training hard," Barão said. "I have my chance now and I'm going to take advantage of that."
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