December 16, 2016

UFC on FOX 22: One Fight From Retirement, Looking Back At Urijah Faber's Legendary Career

By Adam Martin

"California Love."

This weekend at UFC on FOX 22, which takes place Saturday night at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California, "The California Kid" Urijah Faber will once again walk out to the Tupac classic, only this time, he will be making that walk for the final time in his storied mixed martial arts career.

That's because Faber, who at 37 probably shouldn't be called a kid anymore, announced that his bantamweight matchup against fellow veteran Brad Pickett will be his swan song in MMA, the sport that made him a household name, the sport that made him a legend.

Follow a successful collegiate wrestling career at the University of California at Davis, Faber started fighting professionally in 2003 at age 24. He started off fighting on the California regional circuit in the Gladiator Challenge and King Of The Cage promotions, racking up an 11-1 record in his early days while fighting notables such as Ivan Menjivar and Tyson Griffin, who handed Faber his first career loss.

Faber then got a chance to fight in WEC, which was not owned by Zuffa at the time, where he won the WEC featherweight title from Cole Escovedo in his first fight in the promotion. Faber continued fighting in Gladiator Challenge and King of the Cage, where he stopped Bibiano Fernandes, before fighting exclusively for WEC after the UFC’s owners took it over. He then successfully defended his belt against Joe Pearson, Chance Farrar, Jeff Curran, Jens Pulver, and a young Dominick Cruz, quickly becoming one of WEC's stars.

Unfortunately for Faber, he ran into Mike Brown, who proved to be a difficult matchup for Faber as he beat Faber twice, but a win over Raphael Assuncao got Faber back into title contention and he took on Jose Aldo in the first WEC pay-per-view event in 2010. Faber lost that fight, his legs chewed up by Aldo's brutal leg kicks, but but the event sold 175,000 PPVs and the UFC quickly realized that the lighter weight classes could be a draw.

After beating Takeya Mizugaki in WEC's penultimate event, WEC 52, Faber and the rest of the WEC featherweights and bantamweights made their way over to the UFC. After beating Eddie Wineland in his UFC debut at UFC 128, Faber then got a chance to fight Cruz once again for the UFC bantamweight title at UFC 132, ultimately losing a competitive decision to Cruz.

A win over Brian Bowles put Faber back in title contention, and he coached against Cruz on The Ultimate Fighter Live, the 15th season of the show. But with Cruz injured once again following the show, Faber took on Renan Barao at UFC 149 for the interim UFC bantamweight title, losing a decision in the main event of a card that was widely panned by observers. Faber did not let that fight deter him, however, as he then reeled off four straight victories -- over Menjivar, Scott Jorgensen, Iuri Alcantara, and Michael McDonald -- earning himself another title fight against Barao, who had been promoted to “undisputed” champion with Cruz still injured.

Faber lost via controversial TKO against Barao at UFC 169, but once again he did not let the defeat stop his title aspirations, as he was able to collect victories over Alex Caceres and Francisco Rivera to earn himself a mini-superfight against Frankie Edgar, who beat him at featherweight. Moving back down to bantamweight, Faber beat Frankie Saenz at UFC 194 to earn one more fight with Cruz, and at UFC 199 the two rivals fought for one final time, with Cruz winning a unanimous decision, the fourth time Faber lost a UFC title fight.

Faber wanted to make one more run for the title, but after losing a decision to upstart Jimmie Rivera at UFC 203, Faber realized that he just didn't have what it takes to compete at the championship level anymore. Thus he decided to announce his retirement after fighting once more in Sacramento, the city which houses Team Alpha Male, the fight camp Faber created specifically with the lighter weight classes in mind.

And that's where Faber's legacy will live on forever, as one of the top fighters in the lower weight classes, and by far the most popular. Before Faber, no one took the lower weight classes seriously, but with his incredible performances inside the cage to go along with his marketable looks, Faber quickly rose to stardom in MMA, one of the few lower-weight fighters to this day that can say he was a star.

No, Faber did not win a UFC title, and that will haunt him forever, but that doesn't matter, because everyone who watches MMA knows the impact he had on the sport. Without Faber, who knows if the UFC would have ever brought in the bantamweight and featherweight divisions. All we know is that he brought an excitement to those weight classes, and right now they are two of the most exciting divisions in the sport. Faber was the pioneer of them.

When it's all said and done, Faber will be able to look back at his career and be proud of what he accomplished. Sure, there will be an empty spot on his mantelpiece for that UFC belt that never came, but he does have that WEC featherweight title to hang his hat on, and at the time that was huge. Look for Faber to be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in a few years, though with him still coaching at Team Alpha Male, his contributions to the sport are far from over.

When Faber makes that walk for the final time in Sacramento, just remember how much this man helped the sport, and how much of a role he played in the growing popularity of the lower weight classes. The term “legend” gets thrown around too loosely, but when it comes to the lower weight classes, Faber stands alongside Aldo, Barao, Cruz, and Demetrious Johnson, the best lower-weight fighters in MMA history, on the Mount Rushmore of the lower weight classes, and that's something special.

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