Less than three weeks ago, Urijah Faber (25-4) continued on his road to the bantamweight title by defeating Eddie Wineland (18-7-1) via decision in the co-main event for UFC 128 in Newark, New Jersey.
With the victory, Faber earned himself a title shot against current UFC champion Dominick Cruz (17-1) in what will be the main event of UFC 132 (July 2, 2011).
Faber had some trouble at first against Wineland, but went on to dominate the latter two rounds and earn his shot at the bantamweight strap.
"The California Kid" told Pro MMA Radio about the struggles he had in the first round.
"I don't know what it was exactly. I was thinking a lot about what I put in my body that day. My time was off from New York.... I've had a lot of fights and I train every day, especially for a guy that's been training his whole training camp to not be taken down.... That was his whole gameplan: Not to get taken down. I feel like maybe he slowed me down a bit by doing a lot of clinch work, but I didn't feel in any way like I was getting beat up or anything or that I was losing a battle.... It was more a little frustrating like 'let me loose and get going on my deal here.'"
Between rounds, something clicked with Faber and he was able to overwhelm Wineland with takedowns and top control.
"I kinda got the gauge at the end of the first round. I started to really feel the difference in speed and when the punches were coming and how hard they were. I got to gauge that a bit and it really played out the rest of the fight.... I just stayed in that (top) position because I was connecting with elbows and doing some damage and it didn't seem like he was trying too hard to get out of there."
Faber has put a lot of time in on his striking defense, footwork and head movement with Master Tong at his gym, Team Alpha Male, and he feels the hard work is finally paying off.
"If you look at my fight with Mizugaki, I think maybe I got hit a few times but nothing solid. I got caught with one solid punch in the fight with Eddie that I can remember.... Everything else was just barely missing and grazing.... That's two fights at 135 with one connected punch that I consider a substantial punch and I think that's the way it's gonna be."
With the victory, the Team Alpha Male product is pumped to have the renowned UFC marketing machine behind him.
"It's exciting for me. I really think that what sets the UFC apart is their ability to spot talent, market talent and they obviously put some time and energy into marketing me and using my accomplishments.... I'm stoked to be one of those guys that they understand is a moneymaker for them and I'm gonna keep doing it, keep winning, and keep being exciting."
With the title fight looming, Faber broke down his strengths and advantages against the current UFC Bantamweight Champion, Dominick Cruz.
"I would say that definitely in the submission game I'm more of a threat. Standing, I have more devastating stand-up than he does and we're both really elusive. His movement is really unorthodox and unnecessary at times. It really masks what he's gonna do and mine is really deliberate. I only moved out of the way right when Eddie Wineland was gonna punch me in the face.... He's got a history of decision wins and I've got a history of finishing fights. I think that's gonna be the difference."
Some newer fans to the sport may not know it, but Faber gave Cruz the only loss of his career just over four years ago in a featherweight title fight at WEC 26 via submission in less than two minutes. He feels both fighters have changed drastically since then, but the victory gives him confidence.
"The bottom line is I know he can be beat. I found a way to do it once and I can do it again. I'm a much better fighter than I was when we first met. I've got a few years under my belt with Master Tong who I hadn't even met before my fight with Dominick and there's where you see my stand-up developing. My jiu-jitsu game is much stronger and I feel more competitive at this weight. He's fighting a much better Urijah and I think that's gonna get in his head a little bit also."
While "The California Kid" is confident in his abilities, he understands Cruz is a very talented fighter with some high profile wins in the division. He won't take "The Dominator" lightly.
"He's a good fighter. There's no doubt about that. His most impressive fight was against Scotty Jorgensen and also against Joseph (Benavidez). Joseph's tough. I train with him every day so I know how tough he is. You don't beat guys like that unless you've got some talent. I know he's improved a lot, but he's not ready for me."
There was rampant speculation about the upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter featuring bantamweights and featherweights. With the history of bad blood between Faber and Cruz, many felt they would be obvious candidates as coaches. Dana White put a halt the rumors and Faber addressed them on the show.
"It was just mostly the media that was assuming. I never heard anything. It was always just kind of an assumption. I kinda of knew pretty far out that he and I were not going to be coaches. You would have heard from the higher-ups that you would have to prepare for something like that, planning ahead so I didn't think it was gonna happen. "
Faber closed by reiterating his desire to become champion again.
"My goal is to be a UFC champ and I'm in the prime of my life. I feel incredible right now. I'm doing everything in my power to get it done. I can't wait to get my hands on that belt."
For more on Faber, check out the replay of MMAmania.com's exclusive presentation of Pro MMA Radio by clicking here.