It has been three and a half years since Urijah Faber fought in his hometown of Sacramento, California, and a lot has changed since that featherweight title loss at WEC 48 up until his current UFC on FOX 9 match-up against Michael McDonald this Saturday night (Dec. 14, 2013) at the Sleep Train Arena.
For starters, he didn't lose the use of his left leg after suffering five rounds of hellacious leg kicks delivered by Jose Aldo. After recovering from that battle, the Faber made the move to bantamweight. Since the departure from 145, he has gone 6-2, and has fought both, Dominick Cruz for the UFC bantamweight title and Renan Barao for the interim belt.
Neither fight has yielded a taste of gold for Faber, making that five straight title-fight losses.
Despite those setbacks, Faber has managed to never stray too far from the top of the division's rankings, and is currently riding a three-fight win streak. And while he won't be fighting for a belt this coming Saturday, there are plenty of title implications involved in this scrap against McDonald. The 11-year veteran is happy it will be taking place close to home.
"I love Sacramento," Faber told MMAmania.com recently. "I wish it was during the warmer part of the year, especially when I'm cutting weight, but other than that, I'm super excited. It's been a long time."
McDonald is 5-1 in the UFC and is coming off a "fight of the night/submission of the night" victory over Brad Pickett. "Mayday" also has a "knockout of the night" award and owns some of the heaviest hands in the division. Faber has been studying up on his opponent and was complimentary of his best attributes.
"I was watching some of his fights again last night and he has a real gift for striking," Faber said. "He's got super accurate punches. He's got good structure on his punches. If he catches his guy on the right spot, he puts them out and we've seen that time and time again. We've also seen guys that he's fought... Funny, it usually seems to be the smaller guys that he's fought that give him more trouble. The guys he's gone the distance with, so I think it might be a speed thing possibly. The guy's tough, so I have to be aware of that."
Faber is entering his 36th career pro fight and he has been up against the very best of the sport, ground threats and striking threats alike. With his experience and the talent he faces at Team Alpha Male on a daily basis, he feels he is more than ready for McDonald.
"I know that I'm a durable guy," Faber states. "I go against guys everyday like Chad Mendes, who is on a four-fight knockout streak. Joseph Benavidez has been knocking guys out. T.J. Dillashaw has been knocking guys out. I've been drilling with those guys everyday. I've fought guys like Jose Aldo and Renan Barao, so I'm prepared for a dangerous fight, and I feel like I am the better fighter all around."
Faber's arch rival Dominick Cruz shares that same sentiment, telling MMAmania.com recently that "Faber is a bad match-up" for McDonald.
"I think he's going to beat him down," Cruz said. "Definitely. Faber is going to take him down and he's (McDonald) going to close his guard. Instead of using his guard to stand up and beat the crap out of Faber like he should, he's going to close his guard and Faber is going to elbow him to death or guillotine him."
After being made aware of Cruz's prediction, Faber had this to say: "I have a good awareness of what his style is like and I definitely think I have a style to combat it, for sure."
Sitting at the second spot in the current UFC bantamweight rankings, a win over McDonald would most likely secure a fight against the winner of the bantamweight title unification fight between Cruz and Barao, taking place at UFC 169.
The former WEC champion agrees.
"If you look at the rankings for the last three fights I've been ranked pretty high up there, I think number one or number two," Faber said. "I've been winning. Michael McDonald is the other guy right behind me. A big win against him and it would make sense."
Faber said he has watched "a bunch of fights from his past," and that he has "always" been making improvements. "That is a big part of staying relevant in this game almost 11 years now is constantly improving," he said. One of the biggest areas of improvement recently with him and his teammates has been striking, and that has been made possible by the hiring of Duane Ludwig as the head coach at Team Alpha Male last January.
Since that time the teams record stands at 14-2, with T.J. Dillashaw suffering the first defeat at UFC Fight Night 29 to Rafael Assuncao in October, and Lance Palmer dropping the WSOF featherweight title fight this past weekend to Giorgi Karakhanyan. Ludwig's tutelage has shown in the teams record, and Faber said the "structure and confidence" he provides has been vital.
"It's great to have great coaching and to have someone at our home base is huge," Faber said. "It's one thing to have piece work where you going to get great coaching here and there but to have it right here at home and really just structured out is great.
"Talk about a team that's on the rise. We've always had a lot of success, but we are just getting better and better."
Three other members of Team Alpha Male will be joining him in Sacramento at UFC on FOX 9: Joseph Benavidez will face Demetrious Johnson in a rematch for the flyweight title, Chad Mendes will take on Nik Lentz, and Danny Castillo will fight Edson Barboza on the prelims. For all intents and purposes, it's a Team Alpha Male homecoming card, and Faber is "pumped" for it.
"It's going to be like you and your buddies going out and getting into a scrap, and there is nothing better than that."