In MMA’s not too distant past, there was a time when the thought of “The California Kid” Urijah Faber getting a title shot was far-fetched.
And that’s putting it nicely.
Faber, 34, currently sits at 0-5 in his last five title opportunities under the Zuffa banner, and although his career record stands at an impressive 30-6, those recent title woes have become a hindrance to his career arch. However, after a dynamite 2013, in which the Sacramento native went undefeated with four impressive victories, Faber finds himself on the cusp of UFC immortality once again.
This Saturday at UFC 169 from the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, Faber (30-6) will battle the last champion to defeat him, UFC bantamweight kingpin, and pound-for-pound staple Renan Barao.
The first two met at UFC 149 in July 2012, and on that summer night in Calgary, the Brazilian took home a unanimous decision victory, and the company gold secured firmly around his 135-pound frame.
As any champion will tell you, losses happen. It’s what you do, and what you learn after those loses that will determine your legacy. Since his defeat to Barao at 149, Faber’s record has been unblemished, and on Saturday night, as far as Faber’s concerned, this is an entirely different monster meeting Renan Barao inside the Octagon.
And as he candidly admits, there was something lacking – motivationally speaking – when the two first met almost 20 months ago.
“I never go into a fight and don’t give it my all, but that fight was lacking some real excitement. It was really hard for me to get up for,” said Faber to warptown.com as a guest on Majority Draw Radio. “The circumstances I was coming off of– a super long layoff, and there was some big opportunities that I kind of missed, it was hard not to focus on that just a little bit. I wasn’t that pumped for that fight. This fight is going to have a lot more edge. I’m a lot more excited and I hope it comes out in the fight.”
Barao (31-1) was originally slated to meet former champ Dominick Cruz on Saturday, but Cruz fell victim to another one of his — seemingly all too frequent — hard luck injuries. Faber, coming off a dominant victory in December at UFC on FOX against Michael McDonald, got the call to serve as a late replacement on just three-and-a-half weeks notice.
Less than ideal circumstances, no doubt, but for the hungry challenger, this was an opportunity you just don’t pass up.
“Definitely unexpected,” he stated about the call to face Barao on short notice. “Three-and-a-half weeks before the fight, I was looking forward to watching Cruz and Barao do battle. I was actually going to do commentary on FOX. I had a full little schedule. I was going to be involved one way or another, might as well be right in the mix.”
Oh, and that nasty little 0-5 record in recent title outings? As far as The California Kid is concerned, those numbers are just a testament to his championship pedigree.
“The only reason I’ve lost all my fights in title fights the last however long or whatever is because 80-somethng percent of my fights in my career have been title fights.”
Take that, critics.
With the Barao fight looming just around the bend, Faber is one-hundred-percent convinced that the changes he’s made as a fighter, and his surging momentum will be enough to ensure that whatever Barao did in the first fight will be null and void come Saturday.
“The biggest thing he was able to do in the first fight is control the distance,” said the 34-year-old. “He was able to slow [the pace] down just a little bit. How much of that was the damage he did to me in the first round, how much of that was by design, I don’t know, I just know that this time around, I’m going to really have to make it my fight. I wasn’t able do that last fight. I’m looking to do that this time, big time.”
With almost a decade-plus run at the top of his profession, and after the recent title hiccups, it must be asked: does this feel like a last opportunity at UFC glory, and if – god forbid – he loses on Saturday, what’s left to fight for?
“I’m not a last opportunity kind of guy,” stated Faber plainly. “If you look at some of the greats of our sport, Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, Anderson Silva, some of their best years were starting right where I am right now. Randy in his mid 40s, Dan Henderson in his early 40s, Anderson Silva in his late 30s, I’ll leave the small minded thinking to people that think like that. I don’t, in any way shape or form, consider myself old or beat up. I’m getting better.”
Given Faber’s recent performances, it’s hard to argue with the challenger.
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