Next Saturday (March 19, 2011), Urijah Faber (24-4) will look to continue his road to the bantamweight title when he clashes against Eddie Wineland (18-6-1) in the co-main event for UFC 128 in Newark, New Jersey.
Despite being the first World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) bantamweight champion, some within the mixed martial arts (MMA) community weren't exactly thrilled when Wineland was revealed as Faber's opponent.
"The California Kid" tells Pro MMA Radio that while he had other thoughts on who his next fight would be against, he knows the New Breed fighter will present an interesting challenge.
"It wasn't the guy I had envisioned. I didn't know exactly who, but he's on a win streak and the fans tend to give credit to the guys they've heard most about. There's no doubt that he's a top-level athlete, he is a former champion. When you break it down, it doesn't surprise me too much."
One strength in Wineland's game is his stand-up. Nine of the Texas native's 18 victories have come via knockout. Faber respects the striking of his opponent, but he's confident that he can survive wherever the fight goes.
"When I see Eddie, I see a guy that has real powerful straight punches. I think he's a little bit unorthodox the way he strikes, he comes from a lot of different angles. He really only has one way to win in my opinion and that's to catch me on the button and put me out which hasn't happened for me very often. I've been TKO'd in two of my losses and still was conscious, the ref figured I had taken too much. His opportunity to win is through the striking game. I can also win through the striking game, but I've got a real dangerous ground game."
Faber's bout with Wineland will be his second fight as a bantamweight. "The California Kid" says his first cut to the 135-pound division gives him confidence that he can stay at that weight without a problem.
"That was the first time I actually cut all the way down. I did a couple of test runs where I think I hit 138 and got my body back up, but it was good to see where my body went the hours after the weigh-in. It gave me confidence to stay a little bit heavier this time."
While there is no guarantee that if he beats Wineland he will receive a title shot, Faber sees that as a logical conclusion.
"I have no idea but it makes sense to me. I've been at the top of a weight class for a long time. I went the distance and had some good fights with both the past two champions at 145-pounds (Mike Brown and Jose Aldo). I've only lost to three people in my entire career. It makes sense to me but I don't make those decisions."
The rivalry between Cruz and Faber is no secret. The Alpha Male explains why he and Cruz aren't the best of friends these days.
"I'm a real nice guy. I've got a lot of friends in this sport and I try to be respectful to everyone. The first time we fought he was disrespectful. We fought and I figured it was over. I'm in California, this is my state and he's in California, so I hear about these little things he's doing. Putting posters up of me in his gym, defacing them and just being a d-bag."
The two rivals were seen sitting near each other at UFC 125 back in January, but Faber says they're both professionals and keep the fighting inside the Octagon.
"We're both professionals. We're not gonna be jumping at each other's throats. We also have some mutual friends in the sport. I'm sure he's a decent guy. To his credit I feel like he's grown up a little bit since the earlier days. I feel like he's been making an effort to be nice which means whatever it means. We're gonna fight each other anyway. The bottom line is we know what's gonna happen. We're gonna fight each other and there's a little bit of that tension there."
And while he would love to get his hands on Cruz, he says he doesn't need the rivalry for extra motivation.
"That fight would be a big fight but I'm the type of guy that doesn't need a lot of help getting motivated. That's something that set me apart for a long time. I take every fight seriously and I love what I do. I'm a motivated dude. I have trouble going to sleep at night, eager to get up in the morning. It's just the way I live life."
Fighting someone you don't like can be the easiest thing in the world, but Faber will not be fighting an enemy at UFC 128. In fact, he'll actually be going toe-to-toe with someone he considers a comrade.
"You have to get in a different mindset when you're fighting someone you like. Take Eddie for example. I like the guy. We've hung out before and I know he's a cool dude. We're gonna have to fight and this gets into a competitive mentality. There is a different feeling when you're eager to punch someone in the face and show him who's boss."