You can make a case that without Urijah Faber, Conor McGregor would have never become the UFC featherweight champion.
Faber (34-10), who started his MMA career in November 2003, is most known for being the WEC featherweight champion. Faber captured the belt in March 2006 and made five consecutive title defenses (four of the wins coming via stoppage) before losing it to Mike Brown in November 2008.
During that period, the UFC didn’t have weight classes below 155 pounds. The prevailing thought from fans and pundits had been because the UFC didn’t have fighters at the lower weights, they wouldn’t draw at the arenas or get people to view them on television.
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With his movie star looks and charisma to boot coupled with his exciting style, Faber packed venues and set rating records on television highlighted by 12,001 people showing up for his final title defense against Jens Pulver at WEC 34 at the Arco Arena in his hometown of Sacramento and had an average viewership of over 1.53 million on Versus.
Proving he was a legitimate box office attraction, Faber went on to headline the company’s only pay-per-view against then-145-pound Jose Aldo at WEC 48 in April 2010. The event reportedly drew 150,000 buys.
When the WEC merged into the UFC in January 2011, Faber came along for the ride. He challenged for the bantamweight title on three occasions (headlined two of the PPV’s), but came up short each time.
Faber went 9-6 in his UFC run, capping off his career with a unanimous decision win over Brad Pickett in Sacramento in December 2016.
After getting inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2017, it had appeared Faber had taken his ride off into the sunset. However, as it often happens in combat sports, Faber got the itch and revealed in early 2019 that he would be returning at Saturday night’s UFC Sacramento against rising contender Ricky Simon (16-1).
Days away from his grand return, Faber spoke with Sporting News about why he’s returning to the Octagon, why he didn’t want to go out on his fairytale ending two and a half years ago, taking on flyweight and bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo and much more.
Sporting News: You haven’t been through a fight week in over two and a half years. What has the week been like and getting back into the routine of a fight week?
Urijah Faber: It’s been really fun actually. I never really left the space. I was always training with my team, practicing, etc. But getting back into the routine of doing it full-time is a whole different animal when you compare an in-season fighter to an out-of-season fighter. It’s just a few minor tweaks, but they’re big ones like working out during the day, taking care of yourself a little better because you’re training for a specific goal. Other than that, I was in an offseason pattern. I’d train when I want to and be present in the gym.
SN: How often were you in the gym during your time away?
UF: Between six and seven days a week. I’d lead one pro class a week and be there to help out individual fighters and just being present. My gym has offices, so I go in there and work throughout the day. My house is a half-mile away, so I pop in and out as well.
SN: What was the determining factor to you returning?
UF: Well first off, there’s a ticking time table on how long you can compete. And you saw it throughout the years on how long guys go. A lot of guys go on to have longer careers. For me, the reason I retired was because I wanted to. I wanted to focus on some things that I wasn’t able to put a full focus on and make it a priority.
Separation from that was one thing. And then just getting the itch. There’s a lot of great things going on in the sport. It’s exciting. I just feel like I wanted to fight. When you have that itch, and you’re able to scratch it, you’re a blessed person. I’m definitely in a position where I can snap my fingers and step back in and know that I can compete with the best in the world.
SN: What do you say to people out there that feel you had the fairytale ending in December 2016 against Brad Pickett, fighting in your hometown and winning the fight and why ruin a moment that rarely happens in combat sports of going out on top in your backyard and on your terms?
UF: First off, I appreciate the compassion and also the enjoyment people get from me fighting. I don’t think the reason why I retired was so I can have a fairytale ending. I think that’s just not how I operate. I retired because I wanted to. In my eyes, it wasn’t necessarily the fairytale ending. That year, I had lost a world title fight to Dominick Cruz. Winning and going out that way would have been a fairytale ending.
I really appreciate the fact people enjoy the way that went down. I’m excited to compete for the guys who are ready for me to compete again. This is a life where we think about what we want out of life. It’s all about your instincts and for me right now, I just think that I want to fight (laughs). When that is going through your mind and you can do so in another great scenario, then you pull the trigger.
SN: You’re fighting at home for the eighth time in your career. Do the feelings change each time you compete in Sacramento?
UF: I think it’s a blessing to be able to do that. It makes things really easy. I’m not far from the gym; my house is about two miles away from the arena. It’s all a straight line for me – the comfort of fighting at home and a 15-minute fist fight against a young stud in Ricky Simon. I’m excited to get in there and do my thing.
SN: Why Ricky Simon?
UF: In my opinion, he’s a high caliber fighter. I’ve seen him fight. What he brings to the table is what’s common in a lot of the champions which is a ton of grit, great conditioning, intensity and a real knack for the sport. Everyone is looking for an opportunity. And he is trying to get his off of me. And for me, it’s vice versa. I’m somebody that’s going to try and seize the moment, steal the momentum and still prove I’m one of the best in the world.
SN: Bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo brought your name after UFC 238 as someone he’d like to fight. What do you make of Cejudo and is he someone you see fighting down the road if you win on Saturday night, as a Cejudo-Faber clash is perhaps the most marketable fight at 135 pounds?
UF: I would love that fight. If you look at why you get into the sport and envision what you can do and what you want out of your career, fighting all of the best guys in the world like I have been in the past and asking yourself if you are the best right now in the world – that’s why we do this. Henry Cejudo is an Olympic gold medalist, being a two-division champion and beaten a lot of tough guys and accomplishing what he’s accomplished is amazing.
Ten years ago, when he came to our gym to do a little training right out of the Olympics, he came to me and said, ‘Maybe you and I will fight one day.’ And I remember thinking, ‘Absolutely.’ This guy has won an Olympic medal. I told him it’s a way out. But we are here 10 years later and we are still here.
But I’m going to look at the landscape after the fight and decide if I do or not want to fight. Do I want to sneak and try to get at Henry? There’s a lot of things that go into it. But first things first, I have to have my best performance and beat Ricky Simon.
SN: How are you going about this return? Is it on a fight-by-fight basis and just seeing how the body holds up?
UF: It depends on my motivation, how the new family takes of everything. This is an intense process and making sure everyone is OK with it because it’s a pretty new thing – those things are all factors. First things first, I’m going to love this experience and have so much fun doing it. I plan on winning, and I’ll decide after that.
SN: When you envision the fight on Saturday night in your head, how does it play out?
UF: You really don’t know until you get in there. Of course, I am being a step ahead of everything. I’m a mixed martial artist and one of the best in the world, so putting it all together is the key. I envision myself doing that, having a lot of fun and getting the W.
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