Urijah Faber readies for final WEC bout
When the UFC purchased the World Extreme Cagefighting promotion and built it into the world's top destination for lighter-weight fighters, there were no doubts as to the WEC's top star. The "California Kid" Urijah Faber was the longtime WEC featherweight champion and built a fan following and popularity comparable to the UFC's top fighters.
Faber consistently drew the highest ratings for the WEC on the Versus network and headlined the WEC's only pay-per-view, against Jose Aldo. He was also a live attendance draw, particularly in his home city of Sacramento. WEC, which initially under Zuffa (UFC's parent company) ran out of small venues in Las Vegas, expanded to running shows all over the country.
With the UFC recently announcing that it will fold WEC and move WEC fighters into the UFC, it was only appropriate that the WEC's top drawing card and star would fight one last time under the WEC banner before moving into the newly formed UFC bantamweight division. On Thursday, Urijah Faber will headline WEC's second-to-last show against Japanese star Takeya Mizugaki.
For Faber to catch on with the larger UFC audience, he needs to rebound from three losses in his last five fights (Faber was 21-1 heading into that run). In an effort to do so, he will drop from 145 pounds to 135 pounds. Faber walks around at between 147 and 152 pounds, which makes him a small 145-pound fighter. That size difference was particularly apparent in his bouts with Mike Brown, who competed for much of his career in the 155-pound division. Moving to 135 pounds will negate much of the size advantage opponents had over him at 145 pounds.
Mizugaki is a challenging opponent for Faber's first WEC bantamweight fight. Mizugaki is considered one of the top fighters in the division and took bantamweight champion Miguel Torres to the distance in a classic bantamweight title fight in 2009. Mizugaki relies heavily on striking but isn't known as a big knockout puncher. That leaves Faber the option of standing with Mizugaki or using his wrestling to take the fight to the ground. Faber says he is confident wherever the fight goes.
"I know he's strong with his boxing," Faber says. "He's got some great combos. I'd say that's his strongest attribute. He's got a strong chin, a fast pace, and he likes to throw down. But I don't know if he's ever fought anyone like me. Although he's got some strong points, I think I'm stronger than him in all areas of fighting."
If Faber can defeat Mizugaki, there are a host of future opponents for him at 135 pounds. Hardcore MMA fans have wanted to see a fight between Faber and Miguel Torres for years. Brian Bowles is the former bantamweight champion. And there is unfinished business between Faber and current WEC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz.
Cruz and Faber fought for Faber's WEC featherweight crown in 2007, with Faber winning via guillotine choke in the first round. That fight created animosity between the two fighters that still exists. Cruz wants a change to avenge the loss, and Faber wants the title that Cruz now possesses. When Faber is asked about Cruz, he subtly mocks him.
"Dominick's definitely gotten better since we first fought," Faber acknowledges. He quickly adds, "Still not much of a finisher, though. I don't know if he's finished anyone except when [Brian] Bowles hurt his hand. Not that intimidating, that's for sure."
While the WEC-UFC merger will bring greater notoriety to WEC stars like Faber, it will be a melancholy end for the WEC. WEC over the past few years has consistently run MMA's best cards, with exciting fast-paced action bouts from top to bottom. The WEC's final two shows on Nov. 11 and Dec. 16 will offer fans a last dose of the WEC's crowd-pleasing formula.
The time will soon come for Faber to turn the page on the WEC and show UFC fans what has made him the WEC's most popular fighter.
"People can identify with me," Faber notes. "I think I'm a good representative of the sport. I'm doing it for myself, for my future, for my fans, and for everyone at home. People can tell I'm genuine about that."
Photo: Urijah Faber. Credit: Jeff Chiu / Associated Press