Saturday's UFC 149 marked an end of an era in mixed martial arts.
In the main event interim bantamweight title fight, Urijah Faber, the longtime face of MMA's lighter weight classes, was dominated by Renan Barao. "The California Kid" was unable to contest with the Brazilian standing up and found himself on the wrong side of the unanimous decision.
The loss, which was Faber's fifth straight in a championship bout, was likely his last shot at capturing a piece of UFC gold and unfortunately spells the end of his reign as the face of the lighter divisions.
But while his time as a highly touted former champion may be over, Faber remains a legend and a pioneer of the sport.
Rewind the clock less than five years ago, and the landscape of MMA was drastically different than it is today.
Back then, only the heavier weight classes featured in the UFC garnered the majority of the attention from mainstream fans. Fighters competing in the featherweight division and lower were relegated to the regional circuit and a little known promotion known as the WEC.
Back when only champs such as Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre were making headlines, Faber was scraping his way into the spotlight as the WEC featherweight king, creating a buzz for the smaller guys.
The jacked kid from the west coast had all the makings of a star and did not waste the opportunity to take the lighter weight classes into the spotlight with him.
In MMA's earlier days, Faber was the name dominating the featherweight division. At one point reigning as the simultaneous WEC and King of the Cage 145-pound champ, "the California Kid" rolled over both veterans such as Jeff Curran and Jens Pulver as well as future stars like Dominick Cruz and Bibiano Fernandes.
Faber's powerful wrestling combined with his heavy strikes made him a force to be reckoned with, while his impressive physique and charming personality made him the face of the eventually Zuffa-owned WEC.
Even after losing to and failing to regain his title from Mike Brown in 2008 and 2009, Faber was still one of the top three guys in the world at 145, as he continued to defeat highly ranked featherweights.
Faber's named remained in the lights and helped make his WEC 48 title fight against the then-newly crowned champ Jose Aldo worthy of a pay-per-view status.
However, it was this loss that started the decline of the "Kid."
Aldo's dominating performance showcased the next evolution of the sport for the lighter guys.
No longer could a muscular fighter like Faber overpower his opponents, using his strength to dominate the smaller guys. Aldo showed that the new breed had better footwork and more pinpoint-accurate techniques than those that pioneered the lighter weight classes.
To his credit, Faber also evolved after this bout.
Dropping down to bantamweight, the "Kid" found a resurgence. Faber looked not only faster at his new home, but his technique looked crisper, making him an instant contender at 135.
However, his nemesis Dominick Cruz had an even bigger career turnaround at bantamweight.
Earning his shot at the champ after back-to-back wins over highly touted 135ers Takeya Mizugaki and Eddie Wineland, Faber was unable to defeat Cruz at UFC 132. Cruz showed that he had evolved into a much more elusive and faster fighter than Faber and out-pointed the former champ.
His fourth straight title fight defeat, this loss was a close decision but once again showed Faber's inability to cope with faster, more technical fighters.
His follow-up win over former champ Brian Bowles was an impressive Submission of the Night performance, but it was just a win over another face of the WEC's old guard. But that's the type of fighters he should be facing now.
Faber is still a top-tier guy with a lot of fights left in him, but pitting him against up-and-coming contenders like Barao just aren't good matchups for the "Kid." Faber's not past his prime, but his style of fighting just won't match the ever-evolving new breed of the lighter weight classes.
The Baraos, the Cruzs or the Michael McDonalds of the lighter divisions are just operating on a different level than the old champs and contenders of the WEC.
The 33-year-old Faber is no longer the face of the smaller guys, but is now the face of the old guard. Unless he has a late career resurgence, Faber should only be taking on guys like Miguel Torres.
When Faber does decide to call it quits, these past few years as a contender who just fell short of a belt shouldn't mar his legacy as a pioneer of the featherweight classes and below. Despite the five straight title-fight losses, these defeats showed that "the California Kid" never quit even in the face of an ever-evolving new breed.
Years from now, Faber will be regarded as the face that helped to pioneer a small promotion like the WEC filled with talented smaller fighters into the spotlight.
Faber's legacy will go down as one of the most important fighters in MMA history to never wear UFC gold.
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