With a penchant for high-wire escapes and a superhuman endurance of pain, Urijah Faber added another chapter to his considerable book at UFC Fight Night 26 in Boston, Mass., on Saturday (Aug. 17, 2013), decisioning Yuri Alcantara.
Tossed to the mat in the opening moments of the bout, Faber wrenched himself from a series of threatening submissions and altogether bad positions, in a Bantamweight bout that saw him spend the first few minutes with the tough Brazilian riding his back and chipping away with punches, to boot.
Duane Ludwig, who joined Team Alpha Male in January after Faber offered him the job as a striking coach/trainer, summed it up succinctly.
"Fuck yeah, I was worried," Ludwig told MMAmania.com.
But, if history has shown anything, it's that Faber is one of the most reliable guys in mixed martial arts (MMA) when it comes to wrenching himself out of bad situations. He's virtually impossible to negate for too long when on the mat, and after a series of breathtaking scrambles and adjustments, he emerged on top, hammering away in guard to swing the momentum his way.
"He made smart decisions to exploit Yuri's weaknesses," added Ludwig.
That's pretty much the approach Ludwig, an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) veteran, has applied to Team Alpha Male: Do what the other guy doesn't like. Alcantara's modest takedown defense was subsequently a liability, with Faber muscling him to the mat in the next two rounds -- amidst more taxing scrambles and positional battles -- delivering a steady diet of strikes from the top to take a hard-nosed decision win.
It was precisely the kind of mat-based victory Faber made his name on, and the type of win evocative of fellow team members Chad Mendes and Joseph Benavidez. All have fallen short in title shot challenges, but odds-wise, they'd be betting favorites against any non-champion in their respective weight classes.
To win the title, Faber will need some extra oomph in his game, and that's in the stand up element. Longer, quicker guys such as interim champion Renan Barao or Dominick Cruz, long-sidelined because of knee problems, posed tactical challenges due to their better stand up and ability to deny Faber tie-ups and takedown shots. In his rematch with Cruz, Faber also floored Cruz three times with booming shots, an achievement in itself given how difficult "The Dominator" has been to find with strikes.
"His striking will come when he needs it," said Ludwig.
Given how he looked Saturday night, Faber remains the best 135-pound fighter not named Barao or Cruz. And if his stand up has improved as much as Benavidez and Mendes' have in recent outings under Ludwig's tutelage, that might be enough to get him back to the championship level.
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst