The Sleep Train Arena exploded on Dec. 14 of last year, when Sacramento's own, Urijah Faber, put a stamp on his outstanding 2013 fight campaign by submitting Michael McDonald at UFC on FOX 9. The victory capped a four-win calendar year, and put a screeching halt to his opponent's climb up the division ladder. In doing so, he reminded the MMA world to never count him out. "The California Kid" would indeed be making yet another run at the bantamweight title.
He figured he would most likely be facing the winner of the UFC 169 title-unification bout between Dominick Cruz and Renan Barao, but a twist of fate would see him fighting for the belt sooner than expected (details).
UFC President Dana White called the No.1-ranked contender on Monday afternoon to break the news of another heart-breaking injury to his arch-rival Cruz, this time a torn groin, forcing him out of the UFC 169 title fight against Barao. Also, to abdicate the 135 crown and offer Faber the chance to step in and rematch the new UFC bantamweight champion.
Despite the fight being only a little over three weeks away, the 11-year veteran accepted immediately.
"Yeah man. It's not everyday you get to fight for the world championship, so I'm not one to lose out on an opportunity," Faber told MMAmania.com on Tuesday evening. "I feel great. I've had a great year. It's all been kind of preparation for this, I feel like. I just have to seize the opportunity, and I'm going to get that belt."
"I felt like I was in line anyways. In all honesty, I think I've fought the most guys in the top 10, more than Cruz and Barao. I've fought everyone except Brad Pickett, Mike Easton, and TJ Dillashaw, who's on my team, and I fight all the time. I've fought everybody in the top 10, including champions and so it makes sense to me. I'm always game. That's what I do. I got into this sport because I believe in myself and that's why I accepted this fight on such short notice."
Sadly, this great opportunity for Faber comes at the expense of Cruz.
This latest injury to the now former UFC bantamweight champion will delay his return to the Octagon even further. Already out of action for over two years, it could very well be three by the time he makes it back from this latest setback.
The two rivals have a storied history and have had their share of words and differences, but this falls under the old adage of not wishing it on your worst enemy.
Faber wholeheartedly agrees.
"You don't," Faber said. "There's nothing good about this, especially for the guy. I know he's adamant about getting back in the game and it's gotta suck. So I really do feel for him. It's really strange, just some extremely bad luck. His body is not holding up like it should. That sucks for him."
There has never been any doubt about the mutual respect both fighters have for one another, despite their strong distaste to be in each other's presence. Faber submitted Cruz back at WEC 26. Cruz defeated Faber by unanimous decision at UFC 132. The fifteenth season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) brought the rivalry to great heights, but it would never culminate with the much-anticipated rematch, due to Cruz's knee injury. They are always linked in some form or fashion. Would that be enough reason for Faber to contact Cruz and wish him well? Or does he have his limits?
"No, we've already talked, actually," Faber confessed. "I've already done that," he said, before continuing with the details.
"I just said... Basically, he texted me first... We've communicated throughout the years. We were forced to be together for a PR thing that went bad in San Diego, so we know each other. It was just having a private conversation. I wished him to get well, and he wished me best of luck and said ‘may the best man win in this next fight' and that we will keep this rivalry going and that was it."
Faber was then asked if he could picture himself along side Cruz, some 10 to 15 years from now. Maybe signing autographs together at a UFC Fan Expo, while sharing stories and laughing together about their heyday as rivals of the bantamweight division.
"Yeah I don't see why not. I'm an easy guy to get along with to be honest you," he said. "Most people know that. I can see that happening. I'm not one to hold crazy grudges. We'll see what happens."
There will be plenty of time to see if that ever happens, but only a few weeks until the rematch against Barao. The Brazilian got the better of Faber back at UFC 149, and has been blowing out his other competition, including stoppage wins over Michael McDonald and Eddie Wineland.
Faber had to deal with a broken rib suffered in the first round, but has never made any excuses and gave the current champion all the credit for his performance that night. Heading into his twelfth WEC/UFC title fight, he talked about what the difference would be from the first encounter in July 2012.
"The difference for me is my mentality," he said. "2012 was a real crappy year from me, especially monetarily. So that can put a lot of stress on you, especially when you have a lot of things going on. I sat out the whole year to host a reality show. It was supposed to be a huge payout and event at the end of that thing, which didn't happen. I got moved off of a huge card, a July 4th card, onto a card that no one really cared about against a guy that was virtually unknown, but was very, very tough. Just like the morale was down. I wasn't down, down, but it was hard to get excited, and that's all changed. I'm in a different head space. Then after that, I broke my ribs. I didn't fight. I wasn't able to train for a long time because I was healing my ribs. It's just a whole different mind space. And that's an important part of this game, is the mind game."
It seems to be paying dividends for the 34 year-old fighter, he finished three out of the four fighters he faced in 2013, and many felt McDonald would have the advantage in the stand-up department in his last fight. Faber showed his striking is on par with anyone in the division by rocking McDonald with an overhand right that led to the guillotine submission, and no one was mentioning the veteran's striking prior to the fight.
"Yeah exactly," Faber said. "I'm very good. People look at generalizations instead of really breaking things down. I was glad to bring a reality check to a lot of the naysayers."
That "Submission of the Night" victory was the 30th of Faber's 11-year career, but it hasn't really dawned on the former WEC featherweight champion. He's constantly moving forward, training and helping prepare his fellow Team Alpha Male members for future fights, among other endeavors.
"I didn't really think about that," he said. "I don't really take a look at that kind of that stuff. I'm so busy. I'm just moving forward. This year, on top of fighting four times, I've also moved up to preferred status on my Southwest account -- which means I flew over 100 times this year -- which kind of gives a testament to what my life is like. It's pretty crazy to think how things are happening, and all the stuff that's getting accomplished. I haven't really had the time to stop and smell the roses. I'm still working on the garden."
People often say that if you put positive feelings out there, the universe will bring you good fortune, or something to that effect. What you put out, you'll get back. "The California Kid" has stayed positive, is getting results in the cage, and now has a huge opportunity with the UFC 169 rematch against Barao.
Are the stars aligning for him now?
"I'm a believer in that," he said. "I've watched 'The Secret' a long time ago. I read a lot of these motivational books, the Napoleon Hill stuff. I'm always trying to improve that mental game. When you put out positive energy, and you think good and let the negative stuff fall off your back and you don't pay any attention good things happen, and I'm a testament to that. That's what my book talks about. If anyone has had a chance to read my book they kind of understand how I think and different things that have led to why I think that way. It just works."
Maybe now is finally the time he feels a title belt placed around his waist again. Gold straps have eluded him since before his WEC 26 loss to Mike Brown. The critics that have knocked him for losing his last five title fights haven't strayed too far, and will surely be there to say he can't get it done if he loses to Barao on Feb. 1. A loss however, has not entered into his realm of thinking.
"I'm winning this thing no matter what," Faber said with confidence. "It's so funny because, being a guy that has been at the top of the game for 11 years. I think 75 to 85 percent of my fights have been title fights, and I've won plenty of those fights. I was a world champion, but that wasn't my ideal weight. I've been fighting world champions and people can say what they will with my last fights or whatever," he continued stating his case.
"Every loss in every fight is a different scenario. One fight I had broken hands, one fight I thought that I won against Dominick Cruz. Jose Aldo battered my leg and he is now, in my opinion, pound-for-pound the best in the world at the weight above me. There's always little things that people can look at. If you want to just look at pure statistics and say ‘well this is what happened here,' that's just kind of the ignorant way to think, and I don't think like that."
This topic seemed to light a fire under the fighter whom many considered 2013's fighter of the year, and he went deep into his early days and origins in the sport to remind those who knock him, just how long he has been at the top of the sport and still continues to face the best of the best.
"I was fighting in title fights before there was any TV time," Faber stated. "So when guys like Wanderlei Silva and Shogun and all these guys were fighting on huge events in Japan and being televised on pay-per-view, I was fighting in Indian casinos and no one knew what the heck was going on. I was the only one doing it."
"I went to three different organizations and got belts when there was no other competition. I went to Gladiator Challenge and King of The Cage when they were the only other shows in town. I fought in the WEC when it was still owned by Tachi Palace and it was just it's own little spinoff. It was only done in an Indian Casino. I went over to TKO and I tried to fight for the world championship there. That's where I fought Ivan Menjivar."
"I was just trying to go out and find whoever the toughest guys were in my weight class, before anybody knew about this sport. Before any of these critics can look at a statistic and say this or that. I've been doing this for 11 years and I've always been at the top, and I've always been seeking out the best competition. I don't know who else can say that; there's only a few of us."