At UFC 149, Urijah Faber had a golden opportunity.
The stipulations were simple: Defeat Renan Barao, and the title shot would be his. Sure, he would also get a sparkly interim belt, but the chance to square off for a third time against his biggest rival, Dominick Cruz, is what he really wanted.
The bout began, and Faber could not get going.
The second round began, and Faber could not get going.
For five rounds, Faber bobbed and weaved, attempting to take out his foe, but kept coming up short in nearly every aspect of his game.
What went wrong for "The California Kid?"
In this fight, I think it was more a case of what went right for Barao that kept Faber off point.
Barao utilized hard leg kicks for the bout's duration, and this is something that can keep any fighter off balance (literally), but such a game plan is particularly effective against Faber, as Jose Aldo previously showed.
With banged up legs, Faber lost speed, power and the ability to dictate where the fight took place. This was his first obstacle, and that alone was enough to stifle his game plan.
In a best of seven for Faber vs. Barao, who you got?
Barao did not stop there, however. The rangier, longer fighter, Barao used his kicks and reach to keep Faber at bay, and he never allowed the smaller fighter to get inside where he could use his power.
From this distance, Barao was very effective both offensively and defensively. To this end, it is pretty simple: If a bout is fought standing and one fighter is better both striking and defending strikes, that fighter will win.
At UFC 149, that fighter was Renan Barao.
For Faber, the loss really did not prove anything we did not already know.
Against Jose Aldo and in his second fight against Dominick Cruz, Faber showed that he has problems with a faster, more technical striker who has excellent takedown defense.
Faber's bread and butter are his speed and his powerful grappling, and against guys like Cruz, Aldo and Barao, these focal points are nullified.
In a nutshell, to understand what went wrong for Faber, you can look directly to the past. He did not show any new skills or abilities, and for that reason he fell to the same kind of fighter he has struggled with in the past.
Faber is undoubtedly still one of the world's top bantamweights, but until he shakes out these areas of his game, he will continue to be second or third best.
Or, as I like to say, the first loser.