Urijah Faber currently resides inside the top five in the UFC’s bantamweight division, but a title fight couldn’t be any further away for ”The California Kid.” Still, that doesn’t mean Faber should waste his precious few remaining years guarding the gate to the championship bouts.
Faber is scheduled to face Francisco Rivera at UFC 181. It will be the “headliner” of the preliminary card, which is a slot typically reserved for guys who are guaranteed to deliver excitement (Faber has never had an issue in that department). A 10-plus year veteran of the MMA game, Faber almost singlehandedly carried the WEC in its early years. He became the poster child of the promotion and also helped push the featherweight division into national prominence. Faber will undoubtedly go into the UFC Hall of Fame once he hangs up the gloves, but he’s not worrying about his induction ceremony quite yet.
Speaking to UFC.com, Faber commented on his mentality heading into the twilight years of his career:
”I haven’t had time to sit back and smell the roses—I’m in ‘Do Mode’ right now… I’m gonna do, do, do, do and when I feel like I’m done with my journey and this path, that’s when I’ll look back and look at the ruins. At this moment, I’m not in the mindset of sitting back and seeing what I’ve done—I’m still doing.”
True, Faber hasn’t shown any major signs of regression despite competing in nearly 40 fights across over a decade. It’s even more impressive that Faber, who has fought elite-level guys for much of his career, is still relevant at this point. However, while Faber is still relevant in the bantamweight division, he’s well outside the title picture. That’s due in large part to a loss to Dominick Cruz and a pair of losses to Renan Barao. Both of those men reigned as UFC bantamweight champions before Faber’s teammate, T.J. Dillashaw, took the title home to Team Alpha Male with a win over Barao at UFC 173. With Faber’s teammate currently holding the title and Faber’s own losses to the top challengers, Faber is in a bit of limbo despite his high rank.
He’s staying active, though, despite a future without a title shot. Faber picked up four wins in 2013, along with a bounce-back victory against Alex Caceres in July 2014. But instead of taking fights against guys coming off losses and ranked outside the top 10, Faber should focus on much more lucrative bouts. It’s something he’s at least hinted at recently. Speaking to Submission Radio, Faber said he’d be willing to fight for a title in any division.
While fans won’t likely be reaching into their wallets to shell out money to see a Faber rematch with Jose Aldo, another champion who topped the Team Alpha Male fighter, Faber does have the rare opportunity to take part in high-profile fights that would add to his legacy and his bank account. The bantamweight division has practically been cleared out. It’s now a three-man race between Barao, Cruz and Dillashaw. Faber could choose to bump back up to featherweight and face off against a number of high-ranked opponents that would prove to be more fruitful than the fights he’s currently taking now.
Faber fans have pointed to Frankie Edgar as a potential match-up. Edgar’s in-and-out style of boxing could prove to be an interesting puzzle for Faber to solve. The inevitable grappling exchange between the pair would be enticing as well. Edgar is a longtime student of Renzo Gracie, but Faber has proven to be one of the most dangerous submission artists during his career, especially with his guillotine choke.
Ricardo Lamas may envision himself as being on the fast track to a title shot, but it’s hard to envision the UFC selling fans on a rematch between Lamas and Aldo. Their first bout wasn’t as one-sided as Faber’s fight with the featherweight champ, but it still wasn’t even close. Lamas has solid wrestling and knockout power that would seem to match up well with Faber’s skill set. “The California Kid” would certainly enjoy a speed advantage in addition to an advantage when it comes to submission grappling.
Although Cub Swanson is coming off a loss, a bout with Faber would be a great fight for a UFC on Fox card. Both men are established names among the fan base and pairing them up is guaranteed to result in excitement. Swanson is dangerous wherever the fight goes, but one would assume Faber would look to get the fight to the mat, where he’ll have the advantage.
Faber is a huge bantamweight, so moving down a weight class is hardly an option. He’d have a hard time making 125 pounds and even if he could hit the flyweight mark, his performance would likely suffer due to the weight cut. Furthermore, Faber would have the task of dethroning perhaps the most complete mixed martial artist in the sport today in Demetrious Johnson. Also, Faber is 35 years old and weight cutting doesn’t get any easier the older a fighter gets. That leaves the move up to featherweight as Faber’s only possible option if he wants to find a new lineup of significant opponents.
Normally a fighter on the tail end of his career with the drawing power of Faber would engage in high-profile, high-money bouts. Unfortunately, those are hard to come by in a bantamweight division where he has lost to Barao and Cruz. Faber may have enjoyed the advantage of cutting down to bantamweight the past few years, but it may be time for Faber to return to the division he helped build.