Renan Barao: ‘I don’t think I need to fight Cruz to be the champion’

The long-time interim UFC bantamweight champ is now official.

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Renan Barao is upset Dominick Cruz is injured again and would like to fight him at some point in the future. But he doesn’t feel like he has to beat Cruz to be considered the true UFC bantamweight champion.

On Monday, UFC president Dana White announced on ESPN’s SportsCenter that Cruz had to pull out of the title fight with Barao at UFC 169 on Feb. 1 in Newark, N.J., due to a hamstring tear. Cruz, who has been out for more than two years due to a pair of ACL surgeries, was stripped of the bantamweight title. And Barao, the interim champion since July 2012, was awarded the belt.

"I saw myself as a champion before that fight (with Cruz) was scheduled for me,"€ Barao told FOX Sports. "€œI consider myself the champion and I don’t think I need to fight Cruz to be the champion for the people. People understand that."

Barao (31-1) will now meet Urijah Faber (30-6) at UFC 169 in his first official title defense. Coincidentally, it was Faber who he beat last year to win the interim title. When Cruz gets healthy, Barao said he would be interesting in fighting him.

I saw myself as a champion before that fight [with Cruz] was scheduled for me.

"I would like to face him,"€ Barao said. "€œAll the fans would like to see this fight."€

Barao, who is sporting a 21-fight winning streak, says meeting Faber "changes a lot" in his preparation. He was preparing for the speed of Cruz and now he’€™ll have to come up with a new strategy for the former WEC featherweight champion, who he says absolutely "€œdeserves"€ to earn the title shot despite losing to him previously.

"€œHe’s a very tough guy," Barao said of Faber. "He can resist a lot of punches. Even though he’s slower than Cruz, he can take more punches."€

When asked, Barao said he was mostly pleased with Monday’€™s news, if not another Cruz setback.

"€œI’€™m not happy about this injury," Barao said. "€œI’m happy that now I’m the bantamweight champion. That’€™s what I was looking for my entire career. I’€™m a little bit sad that Dominick Cruz is injured."