Urijah Faber is a cornerstone of the new generation of mixed martial arts, at a time when Tim Sylvia was terrorizing the UFC heavyweight division Faber was defining the worth of smaller athletes in the sport as the WEC featherweight champion.
Now at 32-years-of-age he has one thing on his mind, becoming a two-divisional champion, a feat that only Randy Couture and BJ Penn have reached under the Zuffa umbrella.
Standing on the opposite side of the cage from him on July 7 will be top-ranked bantamweight and pound-for-pound star Dominick Cruz.
Cruz and Faber first met in 2007 for the WEC featherweight title and it took the Sacramento-based guillotine specialist only 98 seconds to choke out the unbeaten prospect.
Fast forward four years and Cruz would publicly one-up Faber redeeming his lone career setback in a thrilling five-round affair that was in the conversation for best fight of 2011.
Before the lighter weight-classes ultimate odd couple square off for a third time at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on pay-per-view they will mentor a group of eight fighters each as opposing coaches on the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter: Live which serves as the series’ debut on the FX network.
“The TV and cameras aren’t really too different to work with, I just go through my regular day but the thing that’s different is five hours is taken out of my day that normally wouldn’t be and that’s kind of hard to adjust to but I like it, we’ve got a lot of good kids in here who are learning a lot and having fun and Vegas is a mecca for training so it’s been pretty cool” he says.
Being a coach and mentor to aspiring fighters isn’t new to Faber who has recruited a string of talented fighters including Joseph Benavidez, Chad Mendes and TJ Dillashaw to his Alpha Male gym in Sacramento, California.
“The biggest difference right now is time, I only have a couple of weeks with these guys so as fighters they already have their styles and are developed so we’re just trying to add to that at this point.” Faber said.
As one of MMA’s most charismatic individuals, Faber has become a household name but it’s been a long road to get here and his recent record only winning 3 of his last 5 outings is nothing of concern he assures us
“I’m always fighting tough guys and you never like to lose but being able to put everything out there is something that relinquishes the pity side of it, all of my losses have been in world championship fights and all of them except for one have been in a weight-class that I was outside of and because the sport was underdeveloped I didn’t have the opportunity to drop down when I first started so I’m pretty optimistic about my fights” he says.
Although “The California Kid” is known as one of the nicest people in the sport when you mention his arch nemesis Cruz his entire body language changes, there is definitely some bad blood between these two and it goes back from before they even met.
“First and foremost I have to hear about him all the time because we’re in each other’s worlds and from the get go we have never really got along. He kinda chose me as his enemy and did some immature stuff the first time we met before I even knew the guy and showed his colors and never really got any better from there,”
He continued “We fought two times, that’s our reality that our relationship is guys who fight each other and on top of that our personalities kinda clash and over time we’ve gotten to know each other a little more and there’s definitely some similarities but the bottom line is we don’t really get along”
They say you learn more from a loss than you do for a victory, I have no doubt that Faber has freeze-framed and went back on every moment on his bout with Cruz last July but he now believes he has the perfect recipe to win their trilogy.
“I learned that although his movement is pretty unpredictable I can still connect quite a bit. I was only about four punches off per round, even though he threw a lot more and missed a lot more and that his power isn’t really there and I believed that before but now I know for sure that he can’t hit very hard,” he said.
“On top of that he does takedowns for points and I don’t think he has purpose to do damage with them so being a bit more aware of the fact that he’s just trying to score points with the takedown and maybe getting a bit more aggressive with my grappling and all around having more output offensively so that if I don’t finish the fight then I’ll at least paint a picture to these guys that I’m the better fighter.”
A trilogy in anything whether it be movies, books or in this case mixed martial arts is a rare occurance, finally these two top-ranked stars will get the chance to settle the score when all the marbles are on the line at UFC 148.