The Urijah Faber Myth: Why the UFC Bantamweight Never Quite Lived Up to the Hype

Jonathan SnowdenCombat Sports Senior WriterApril 11, 2013

Feb 23, 2013; Anaheim, CA, USA; Urijah Faber reacts after defeating Ivan Menjivar (not pictured) in their UFC bantamweight bout at the Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Mythology is a wonderful thing. There's nothing more powerful than a good story well told. And many of the best stories are about the primal things: love, lust, hate and war. In the correct hands a battle can come to life, vivid and real. If done right, a warrior can live through the ages.

Think Achilles dispatching Hector at the gates of Troy.

Think David besting Goliath or Audie Murphy charging a machine gun nest in France, single-handedly taking the fight to the enemy.

And, if the UFC has its way, you'll think of Urijah Faber too, carrying a division on his back, wrecking UFC legend Jens Pulver and becoming an all-time pound-for-pound great and surefire Hall of Famer.

It's a feel-good story, one Faber helps pave the way for with an easy charm and quick smile. We want to like Urijah Faber. We want good things for good people.

But the truth is a little more complicated. While there is no doubt Faber was an important part of the UFC's decision to bring lighter weights into the fold, the myth of his fighting prowess has been largely overstated. Like many boxers with potential commercial power, Faber was carefully manufactured, relentlessly hyped and vastly overrated.

He was WEC champion when the UFC bought the promotion in 2006, albeit a champion in a division where many of the top fighters still competed overseas in Japan. But the UFC saw something special in Faber. For a solid year, it pushed him on the MMA media at every turn, a captive audience if there ever was one. At nearly every UFC event there was Faber, with UFC PR queen Jen Wenk by his side, asking ever so politely if you would like to interview the rising star.

And so the legend grew. It didn't hurt that Faber was a solid talent, even an exciting one. Sherdog, one of the few media powerhouses not slavishly trying to please the UFC, took note after a win over the well-respected veteran Jeff Curran, ranking Faber among the top 10 pound-for-pound fighters in the world for the first time in January 2008.

On the surface, it was a completely reasonable decision. Faber had built a 20-1 record—18 of those wins decisive finishes of one kind or another. But looking deeper at his career before the Curran win, it was a record of success built on a flimsy base.

Faber's victims? A motley bunch with a cumulative combined career winning percentage of just 59 percent. In retrospect, Dominick Cruz and Bibiano Fernandes stand out among the professional victims—solid wins under any circumstances. But Cruz had half the experience of Faber and was in just the second year of his career when he lost for the first and only time. For Fernandes, it was just his second career fight.

The real Urijah Faber was on display after the Curran fight, when the level of competition increased dramatically. In these fights during his physical prime, Faber's opponents had a career winning percentage of 75 percent—a huge leap in quality. Against these foes, fighters at the top of the heap, Faber managed just a 7-5 record. Solid but hardly spectacular.

In title bouts after establishing himself against Curran, he earned just one win in six fights—the one win a decision of dubious value against a washed-up Jens Pulver who would go on to be finished by each of his next five opponents. Against the very best in the world, men like Jose Aldo (everything the UFC wanted Faber to be but in a less attractive package), his limitations became obvious.

His striking was not quite good enough against a true master. His wrestling couldn't always be guaranteed to get the fight to the ground when the going got too tough. Against an average or good fighter, he was a monster, a 5'4" wrecking ball. Against the best of the best, however, he was lost, throwing spinning strikes and hoping for a miracle.

Urijah Faber has failed to get the job done time and time again—not exactly the hallmark of a Hall of Famer. He's a good fighter, make no mistake about it. A fun fighter and a savvy entrepreneur. A great guy. But he's not, and has never been, one of the great fighters.