There are some fighters who have legendary careers. They accomplished every single goal they set out to do, and the main reason they continue to stay in the fight game is because they enjoy the challenge of competing with the best in the world.
Right now, there’s much discussion of the expected retirement of MMA legend and championship contender Dan Henderson, who will hang up the gloves regardless of the result of his rematch with middleweight champion Michael Bisping at UFC 204. While that story has an almost definitive ending, barring some surprise announcement, there’s another fighter out there whose career has lasted many years and could come to a close very soon. This man is former WEC featherweight champion Urijah Faber.
What more is there left for “The California Kid” to achieve in his career? Not only has he been champion and defended the belt against top-flight competition, but he has become recognized as a true pioneer who put the lower weight classes on the map and gave them true recognition in the mainstream of the sport.
Unfortunately, Faber’s recent fighting career has been very rocky, coupled with instances of drama within the confines of his well-known and popular gym at Team Alpha Male, which is based in Sacramento, Calif.
After starting his career by winning 21 of his first 22 fights and making five impressive title defenses in the WEC, Faber lost his WEC championship to Mike Brown, which basically marked his dethroning as one of the most unbeatable fighters in MMA at the time.
Faber had some good runs, at one point winning six of seven bouts to put himself right back into title contention. However, he went on to lose two title fights against two different opponents within a three-fight span and never managed to make it over the hump to finally become a champion in the UFC.
Even though he’s memorable for accomplishing many great things, Faber is also equally memorable for some things that weren’t too great for his career. One of these is a fight with longtime champion and striking phenom José Aldo, who absolutely destroyed — and temporarily hobbled — the left leg of Faber in their 2010 featherweight title fight in the WEC. Anybody who has seen this fight will recount 25 of the most gut-wrenching minutes every witnessed between two competitors.
In the entirety of the bout, which went the full five rounds, every slamming of Aldo’s shin that connected to Faber’s upper thigh was just as excruciating as the next, with many of the kicks buckling Faber’s leg and forcing him to fall to the ground. It was so terrible that even cageside announcers Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan were chomping at the bit to throw in the towel for Faber. It was just that hard to watch.
At the end of the night, it was a lopsided win for Aldo, but the story of the fight was the condition of Faber’s leg, especially the next day. It was swollen, bruised up and discolored.
Another unfortunate thing Faber has been known for recently in his career is failing to deliver in big fights, particularly when it comes to fighting for the title. Not only is it important to note that Faber has the most number of losses (7) in title fights, including four in the UFC against just two opponents, but he’s also underperformed in a majority of his recent title bouts, seemingly not putting up much of an effort to really challenge his opponent. Certainly his last three bouts, two of which were against former champion Renan Barão and the most recent against rival Dominick Cruz, have been the most lackluster for Faber. He seems to be missing the motivation and drive to compete as hard as he once did. Even his most recent fight against up-and-coming bantamweight Jimmie Rivera did not go Faber’s way at all, as he lost via unanimous decision at UFC 203 just over 10 days ago.
This is not to say Faber doesn’t still have the skills and athletic ability to do big things. This is the catalyst that has allowed him to be so successful against top-flight competition for so many years. However, the time is approaching for Faber to really consider calling it a career. He’s achieved so much, and he’s tried until the bitter end to get that title without success. After losing two times to the aforementioned Cruz, who is likely to remain as champion for many years, there is no reason for them to fight for what would be a fourth time (Faber beat Cruz in their first title bout in the WEC years before the pair fought in the UFC).
In addition, there are a couple of young, hungry bantamweights on the rise from Faber’s Team Alpha Male, including Cody Garbrandt, who is currently seen as the most serious challenge to Cruz’s title. It would probably be in Faber’s best interest to coach and prepare Garbrandt for a potential bout and focus on a new venture as head coach of all the fighters in the Alpha Male gym.
Faber can easily join the ranks with Justin Buchholz, a former fighter who now serves as one of the main coaches for the Sacramento-based squad. Combined, Faber and Buchholz can certainly put together a strong stable of fighters who will make an impact on multiple divisions in the MMA world.
Ultimately, there comes a time when a fighter has to realize when he or she should probably stop pursuing the dream of a championship and consider their physical and mental welfare. While Faber is still in great shape to compete, there is obviously something missing. It doesn’t seem like he’s able to fill the hole preventing his success. The sooner he realizes this, the sooner he can move on to the next phase of his life and build his future as a great gym owner, fight recruiter, entrepreneur and coach.