We’re at that point again. It’s a scenario fight fans either loathe or love. After a victory at UFC 194 over Frankie Saenz, Urijah Faber is in talks for a title shot. Again.
This page has been turned many times. Each time the voices get louder. Fans will say, “Faber doesn’t deserve his millionth title shot,” obviously taking great part in hyperbole to drive their point home even more. They will also say, “He never wins when gifted these shots, so why even throw him in there?”
Yes, Faber does seem to ride a continual string of title shots. For those at home who have lost count, the former WEC titleholder has fought for the UFC strap three times — twice against Renan Barão and once before that against current title challenger Dominick Cruz. Those who dispute his legitimacy of a title shot miss one thing, though. Faber continues to win and put himself in these situations. The UFC can’t simply deny the title shot to a popular fighter who continues to win.
Typically, at least, that would be the defense for giving Faber another title shot. His previous shots have been formed through a shallow division, devoid of challengers or a long winning streak carried over a year. This time, the UFC doesn’t have either. Current champion T.J. Dillashaw and Cruz will fight early in 2016, and no matter the winner of the fight, it sets up an interesting dynamic with Faber.
It’s either a storyline of the growing rift between Faber and Dillashaw, or it’s the trilogy fight with Cruz. Either way, this is why Faber will most likely stand next in line for a championship berth. Dillashaw and Cruz each have a rivalry going with Faber that is simply too much for the UFC to pass up.
Dillashaw’s split from Faber’s Team Alpha Male is a step in the direction of revitalizing a career. Not Dillashaw’s career, but the career of Faber. Faber has been stuck in limbo with Dillashaw as the champion. Dillashaw and Faber were content to not fight each other for the title. Instead, Faber was going to take interesting and compelling fights at both bantamweight and featherweight. Now, Faber can re-enter the title picture.
There really isn’t anything comparable to the attention a title fight gets. Yes, fans would be excited if the UFC matched Faber against Frankie Edgar in a featherweight battle of two guys who just don’t lose in non-title bouts. However, these types of fights won’t get the same recognition as a title contest. Furthermore, Faber, at age 36, doesn’t have much more of a window to cash in as a relevant competitor in the sport. With the split, Faber now has the chance to make the most of his remaining time instead of sitting on the sideline and taking fights that won’t culminate in a shot at the belt.
The ramifications of the fight could be big for Faber. “The California Kid” could come up short in his fourth UFC title fight — his sixth shot at gold overall since losing his WEC belt to Mike Brown in 2008. The early breakdown certainly favors Dillashaw over Faber. Faber isn’t the same fighter he was earlier in his UFC career. His last few fights have been a little lackluster, to put it nicely. Dillashaw has age, skills and better recent form over the former WEC champion.
Dillashaw and Faber have trained together so much that they most likely know each other in and out. The little subtleties in their games, like where they make the small mistakes, how they like to set up combinations or takedowns and the fact that they know they’ve won their fair share of sparring battles, are something to consider heavily in this fight.
And if Cruz emerges victorious over Dillashaw? Then it’s time for the rubber match in a trilogy between Cruz and Faber. Faber, in his prime, won the pair’s first match, but a third fight between the two could go more like their second meeting, in which Cruz ended up victorious. It all depends on how well Cruz looks against Dillashaw after battling injuries for what seems like forever. The injuries could have sapped some of the speed and footwork that made Cruz one of the best fighters below the lightweight level, if not the very best.
It’s difficult to gauge just how these fights will trend without knowing exactly who will be across the cage from Faber, how they looked in their title fight and even if Faber actually does get the title shot because, well, it isn’t written in stone.
This could be Faber’s last chance at UFC gold. A sixth UFC title shot would be unprecedented for a guy who never actually held a UFC belt previously, and fans might unanimously turn away from such a fight, even if it does feature one of the best featherweights in the sport’s history. However, the split between Dillashaw and Faber was a necessary one that revitalizes Faber’s career. Without it, Faber wouldn’t even have this last chance.