Mixed martial arts is an unforgiving sport. Bone hits skull and bodies drop. Split-second decisions have to be made with no time to reconsider. Sometimes, things go wrong.

As a champion, Renan Barao did all he was supposed to do. He hurt Urijah Faber and worked for the finish. He seemed to be on the way to it when referee Herb Dean pulled him away, calling the match over, only to see Faber immediately get to his feet and protest, seemingly clear-eyed.

Much to Faber’s chagrin, the decision remained, Barao via technical knockout at 3:42 of the first round.

The controversy overshadowed an otherwise brilliant performance from Barao, who out-struck Faber 37-9 in the short fight and at worst, had him in imminent danger. But it didn’t stop him from celebrating the victory.

“A little bit,” he said when asked if the stoppage surprised him. “I fought him before, he’s a very tough guy, resilient so I knew it was going to be a tough fight.”

“They asked me to defend myself and I was defending myself,” Faber said afterward. “I had to do something. I put my thumb up. It is what it is. It’s not like a situation where I can ask for an immediate rematch or anything like that so I’m just going to get back on the horse.”

The finishing sequence began courtesy of a long-range right hand that knocked Faber down. Barao swarmed with ground strikes but Faber got back to his feet. Barao stayed on his prey, hunting him down with missiles that had Faber wobbling around. Finally, after a right behind the ear, Faber fell facedown. Barao controlled him from the side, throwing hammerfists. Faber covered his head but Barao’s fist thudded off repeatedly until Dean called the action.

Faber later pointed out during a replay that he gave a thumb’s up to indicate he was OK, although it would have been at an angle that would be difficult for Dean to see during live action.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Faber (30-7). “I’m one of the most durable guys in the world. He told me to do something, and I gave him a thumb’s up right before he stopped it. Herb is a great referee, I just wish he gave me more of a chance.”

To be fair though, Faber has had many chances at the gold, six in all dating back to 2008, and he’s lost each time. This was his third crack at a UFC belt since the WEC’s lighter weight classes were absorbed, and despite a stellar 2013 which saw him go 4-0, he’ll have to somehow regroup and start anew.

“For those who know me, I don’t consider this my last chance by any means,” he said. “I took a great opportunity against a tough opponent. The whole camp didn’t go my way and I was still optimistic that I was going to get this belt tonight, and I’m still optimistic that I’ll be world champion.”

But apparently, he’ll have to go through Barao to do it. Faber said he plans to stay at 135, and Barao said that even if his teammate Jose Aldo goes up to lightweight and vacates the 145-pound belt, Barao won’t move up.

“I still have a long way to go in this weight division,” said Barao, who pushed his incredible unbeaten streak to 32 straight dating back to his career debut in 2005. “I still have a lot of work to do. I just got the belt. I’m not planning to go out yet.”