It wasn't the fight everyone had been looking forward to.
For months, mixed martial arts (MMA) fans had been anxiously awaiting the trilogy rubber match between Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bantamweights Urijah Faber and Dominick Cruz, who coached opposite each on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "Live" on FX.
Unfortunately, that bout didn't come to fruition after Cruz badly injured his knee (having to have both his ACL and MCL repaired through surgery) during training. It was later announced that Faber would take on highly touted Brazilian prodigy Renan Barao for the interim Bantamweight Championship belt at UFC 149 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on July 21, 2012.
Barao may not be the champion, and he may not be who Faber had originally trained for, but he's a very dangerous opponent nonetheless. In some ways, Faber thinks he may be even more dangerous than "The Dominator:"
"I'm excited for it. I really feel like it's a more dangerous fight. If you look at him versus Dominick, it's not as tricky, it's more straightforward. He has a lot of heavy artillery in his offense. He's really polished on the ground, a black belt who has a lot of finishes. But it's not gonna be as tricky as Cruz. With Cruz, you have to find him, he's running around and trying to outpoint you. Barao and I are gonna go out there and beat each other up, and I'm gonna get the win."
Barao is known as a fighter who always looks to push the pace and finish fights. Of his 28 wins, six have come by way of knockout and 13 by submission.
With that said, Faber is no slouch himself in that department, and he sees them as being very evenly matched:
"Yeah, a lot of people don't realize, also, that I've fought the majority of my career at 145 pounds, even though I've been the same size the whole time. Because our sport's been developing, I didn't have the opportunity, back in 2003, when I first started fighting to fight at these lower weight classes. But I was always at the top of the 145 pound division. I wanted to take that next chance at the title, even though I was being given a big size disadvantage. I think I have one more TKO or KO, one more submission than he does, but he has a couple more fights than I do."
Barao has won 18 fights in a row, one of the longest streaks in all of MMA. He hasn't lost since 2005. However, he's only got three UFC fights under his belt, versus the top competition in the world.
Faber isn't taking him lightly, based on his past level of competition, but he also feels like he's fought tougher:
"I've definitely fought better fighters, but the guy's got the championship mentality. There's no doubt about that. This is gonna be his toughest test, but he's not gonna be my toughest test."
"The California Kid" continued to talk about how he stacks up against Barao in the different aspects of the MMA game. He re-iterated the fact that he sees them as being pretty even, but he also made it clear that he feels he's just a little better in most categories:
"I'm gonna see where the fight goes. I feel like, my stand up feels incredible. If i had to say where his strengths and mine match up, and weaknesses and stuff like that, I don't feel like either of us are weak anywhere, but he's got better knees and kicks than I do. I feel like I have a speed advantage and power with the hands. I think, wrestling, I'm a little bit better, and we're comparable in jiu-jitsu."
For Faber, this is just another fight and an opportunity to prove himself against the next, toughest guy who stands in his way:
"That's what I've asked for, from the beginning. I remember my second fight ever, I asked for Charlie Valencia. He was the guy who was the man, back when I first started fighting in 2003. He was the 155 pound champion for Gladiator Challenge, and I remember the promoter saying, 'Oh, you don't wanna mess with Charlie Valencia.' I hadn't even really been training, but I said, 'Is he the best guy? Let's find out.' Nine years now, at the top of whatever weight class I'm in. That's just a testament to living a healthy lifestyle, training my butt off and getting better all the time."
For all things newsworthy pertaining to the UFC 149 event in Calgary on July 21, 2012, click here.