I’m sure the phone call to Urijah Faber, intended to inform him of Dominick Cruz’s unfortunate injury that lead to a highly coveted title shot for himself, left him with mixed emotions. Where the main event was Bantamweight champ Cruz versus the man who has been defending his belt as the interim champion in Renan Barao, Cruz’s injury has led to his immediate forfeiture of the belt which now makes Barao the champ and the man he fought for the interim belt in Faber at UFC 149, will now fight him for the undisputed bantamweight championship once again.
This is a clear victory for Barao. He’s been defending the belt in Cruz’s place since 2012, finishing two of the best in the world in the process in Eddie Wineland and Michael McDonald.
His spinning back kick on Wineland was something never seen before in the cage according to Joe Rogan who was of course commenting at the event on the time. Then the way he absolutely slapped on that choke on McDonald after picking him apart on the feet felt surreal, as if he was operating under a quicker universal law of physics all to himself.
To me, this isn’t a question of Barao’s legitimacy as champion, but more of Faber’s as challenger. Without a doubt Urijah Faber has earned his spot as the number one contender in the bantamweight division. This feat alone is cause for celebration on his part. His latest title shot will be the sixth he’s received over all since the premier featherweight and bantamweight classes were in the WEC, before being pulled over to the UFC.
Not only is it incredible he’s lasted that long as a top contender in the sport, but the fact that he’s going in to his title shot with Renan Barao while riding four decisive victories that saw him finish Ivan Menjivar, Scott Jorgensen, and Michael McDonald in the process, is hard to comprehend in a sport that doesn’t allow for much resiliency in a fighters career, especially at the highest levels.
His uncanny ability to remain at the peak of competition in the UFC might be due to his championship qualities that saw him dominate the lower divisions for years. But considering the drastic changes at the head coach position at Team Alpha Male where he trains, Duane “Bang” Ludwig has changed the wrestling based fighters in to dynamic mixed martial artists with a stand-up game to compliment the one on the ground.
This is more or less what the fighters say about their new head coach, including Faber. Plus there is one more thing to take in to consideration: Most of the fighters in Team Alpha Male are top contenders, but none have ever held a UFC belt. It would be more than fitting for their leader and most accomplished veteran to be the first to hold the belt.
Now the critics have been harsh to The California Kid over the years, a period of time in his life where he went from the dominant 145 champion in the world when the WEC was around, to entering the UFC as a contender and fighting for the belt three times since 2010, losing in one sided competitions to Jose Aldo, Dominick Cruz, and Renan Barao.
The reoccurring questions he fields on a constant basis are far from flattering these days. What feels to be the harshest of the bunch is when reporters ask if he’s being handed title shots unfairly since he’s one of a select few fighters who carry weight in the MMA community at the light weight classes.
Brian Bowles felt he was getting handed title shots before their fight at UFC 139 when the winner was going to face Dominick Cruz, of whom Faber had just fought and lost a decision to for the title. Faber famously shot back when told of Bowles comments that his opponents can have title shots, if they can beat him first of course.
Now he’s staring number six right in the eyes. When people ask if he’s got what it takes to win a UFC title at this point, after all the years of fighting, after all the title shots lost, there’s one thing they are missing, and it factors in to the reason they ask these types of questions in the first place.
Look how he continually finds himself back at this place, knocking on the champ’s door once again. He got here through committing to the journey and not worrying about the destination. When he wraps his hands tomorrow and begins training for an opponent he will be widely considered out matched by, while training for his thirty seventh mixed martial arts bout, I guarantee you his step will be light and his intent focused.
His abilities to fight in this moment won’t be due to any physical acumen, but intern by his force of will to push forward and not give up, regardless the odds, regardless the criticism, and regardless of the outcome. He could bring home the belt at UFC 169 and to deny the possibility is to deny the very essence of mixed martial arts.