Although it probably won’t draw the same amount of hype as upcoming fights like GSP-Hendricks or Weidman-Silva II, the news that Renan Barao will finally face Dominick Cruz on February 1st is huge. Not only is it a big deal because the bantamweight champ Cruz is finally returning after more than two years, but because each man is a ridiculously talented fighter. Case in point, right now Barao is ranked as the UFC’s #6 ranked pound-for-pound fighter, and it wasn’t long ago that Cruz was also on that list.

At the end of the day, however, Cruz hasn’t fought since October, 2011. While the highly regarded fighter maintains he’ll be ready to go, it remains to be seen whether the time off will be a factor. So does the interim champ believe cage rust will affect Cruz’s performance at UFC 169? While speaking to MMA recently, here’s what Barao had to say on the subject.

“I don’t believe that gives me an advantage,” Barao said. “What gives me an advantage is my training. I will work hard to get there at my best. I’m not counting him out because of the injuries.”

Of course, Barao trains out of the world renowned Nova Uniao team, which also includes featherweight champ Jose Aldo (who will also fight Ricardo Lamas at UFC 169). Cruz has been out of action as a result of two knee surgeries, and when asked if the knee could be a target for kicks, Barao stated:

“Let’s see which strategy Andre Pederneiras and Jair Lourenco will prepare for this fight,” Barao said. “Whatever they decide, I’m doing in this fight.”

Clearly nothing has been ruled out yet…Barao was also asked to make a call on the Aldo-Lamas fight, and not surprisingly he went with his teammate. According to the 26 year-old bantamweight “Aldo will walk straight forward and score another big knockout.” Guess we’ll find out soon enough. That card is already looking fantastic.

UFC 169 will be hosted by Newark, New Jersey’s Prudential Center. Stay tuned to Caged for all your UFC news and coverage.