Having gone 5-5 over his past 10 contests—five wins coming in non-title fights, five losses coming in title matches—Urijah Faber most definitely finds himself at a crossroads.
The California Kid's next match will be somewhat telling of his career trajectory, not only in terms of outcome, but in terms of opponent.
Will it be a big name? A rising star? A hungry up-and-comer? Will it be someone Faber can climb over en route his return to contention or someone who may use the legend's name as a stepping stone? Or, maybe both?
Whether the UFC still views Faber as a monetary draw and viable title fighter will be implicit in who they choose as his next opponent.
There are a number of options out there that each make sense in their own way, the possibilities not even being firmly restricted by weight class.
Will Faber's next fight be at bantamweight or featherweight?
And when might it take place?
Rather than proceeding directly to asking the remaining "W questions," of "where" and "why," I have instead decided to list five fighters who may turn out to be the former WEC champion's next opponent.
Where? On the following five slides. Why? Because, as of now, the answer is very much up in the air.
That's what we call a compromise.
McDonald dispatched one MMA legend this year, how about another?
After a decisive knockout victory over Miguel Torres, McDonald officially moved from prospect to contender. What better way to solidify that transition than with a win over Faber?
The match would feature a stylistic clash of striker vs. grappler, though Faber seems to fancy himself as the former more and more these days. Still, McDonald would enter this contest as the superior standup specialist and Faber as the better ground fighter.
Such a match would afford the 21-year-old Mayday the opportunity to win his way into a title fight. Or, at least within sight of a title fight, the immediacy depending upon how quickly (or how long) it takes Dominick Cruz to heal up and face Renan Barao.
For Faber, a win would show critics that he still has what it takes to hang with the younger stars at 135 pounds, something he wasn't able to convince many people of during recent outings against Cruz and Barao.
This contest would be meaningful to both participants and could function as a co-main event on a pay-per-view card.
If this match were made, it would signify the end of the UFC's belief that Faber is a championship-caliber fighter. It would not be because Perez is unworthy of this challenge, but because the potential benefits of this hypothetical contest lie so one-sidedly with Faber's opponent.
For the young Mexican standout, a fight against Faber is an avenue toward stardom—an acceleration to mainstream recognition and notoriety. Even if he were to lose, the UFC would have ample time to reset Perez's hype and market him as a up-and-comer who has learned from defeat at the hands of an all-time great.
As for Faber, a win would do little for springing him back into title contention; Perez is a dangerous fighter but not one with the credentials to base a title run on. A loss would more or less be the end of the California Kid as an impact player in the sport of MMA.
If this fight goes down, it would be a huge opportunity for Perez and a big threat to Faber's career. It's doubtful that the UFC will go this route, but if they do, chances are the actual product will be an entertaining one.
Easton is another 135er looking to grow his name, and a fight opposite Faber would be an ideal way to do that. The 28-year-old wears a more recognizable face than what Perez can lay claim to, so the chances of this one happening are definitely more significant.
At 3-0 in the UFC, Easton has established himself as one of the more promising bantamweights currently fighting under the promotion's banner. The torrid pace he likes to set, matched against a willing fighting like Faber, spells fireworks.
A win would mean something for both guys, though obviously more for Easton, for whom victory could function as a springboard to a No. 1 contender bout somewhere down the line.
Easton took on Ivan Menjivar in his last fight. Now, it's time for him to take a swing at an A-lister. Why not Urijah?
On September 12, after news broke that Jose Aldo would be unable to fight Frankie Edgar at UFC 153, Faber took to Twitter to offer his services for the night's now defunct main event.
Given how savagely injuries have ravished the UFC of late, perhaps Dana White would be willing to throw Faber (or anyone else healthy enough to actually fight) a bone. After all, it isn't that crazy. Faber has spent the better part of his career fighting at 145 pounds, though he has not competed at that weight since 2010.
In Edgar, Faber would find another new arrival at featherweight, though coming from the opposite direction—the Answer's next contest will mark his 145-pound debut after having establishing himself as one of the best lightweights on the planet over the past three years.
The weight-class margin, however, is a bit deceiving. Faber was never a particularly undersized featherweight when he used to compete in the division, and 145 is considered by many to be Edgar's most natural fit.
In his tweet, Faber notes that he is at 158 pounds. I can't imagine Edgar is a whole lot more than that.
But weight issues aside, the match would feature two bona fide stars in a main-event-caliber matchup. There probably wouldn't be a whole lot of people predicting a Faber victory, but given the circumstances, a loss would not be all that devastating to him.
On the other hand, to say a win would resurrect Faber's career would be an understatement.
If Faber is willing to answer the featherweight call against Edgar, perhaps, he'll be inclined to try his hand at another 145-pounder.
Granted, Faber's challenge to Edgar was largely circumstantial, but a showdown with Sung Jung may be worth exploring all the same.
The pickings at bantamweight are somewhat sparse for Faber at the time being, with most viable opponents locked into upcoming matchups or having already faced Faber fairly recently. So, if Faber's challenge to Edgar is rebutted by either Edgar or Dana White, and he is unable to find a suitable contestant at 135, the Korean Zombie might provide the best option.
The fight would be easy to market since it features two fan favorites. It would also be likely to deliver an entertaining product. Additionally, for Sung Jung, the fight might be enough to garner a title shot, should he emerge victorious. Faber, on the other hand, might be able to parlay a win into a No. 1 contender fight at featherweight.
While this bout may not be the first one that comes to mind when considering Faber's next move, it may be the most meaningful bout the California Kid can find outside of Edgar and Michael McDonald.