Urijah Faber is a leader through and through.
Back when the lighter weight classes were all but cast aside on the grander MMA landscape, "The California Kid" was the lone fighter drawing attention below the 155-pound line. The long-reigning WEC featherweight champion was the king of the "little blue cage" and helped open the doors for a new era of fighter to make their mark on the sport's biggest stage.
While Faber's time as a champion would come to an end before the WEC/UFC merger in 2011, his leadership talents never missed a beat. In his hometown of Sacramento, Calif., the 34-year-old former title challenger was mentoring a new batch of future contenders who were about to break through.
Faber's Team Alpha Male squad has produced two perennial title challengers in featherweight Chad Mendes and former No. 1 bantamweight contender turned flyweight threat Joseph Benavidez. All three have competed for titles in their respective weight classes over the past two years, and are building up tremendous momentum in route to another opportunity in the near future.
While Team Alpha Male has already established itself as a force to be reckoned with inside the cage, Faber believes the success is going to continue for many years to come.
"We have good leadership on the team. It starts with myself, and how I approach things," Faber told Bleacher Report. "Then like-minded people join the group and we feed off one another. It's kind of funny when you talk about missed opportunities for UFC titles. It wasn't all too long ago the UFC brought in 125-, 135- and 145-pound divisions. We've already had these title shots and we aren't going anywhere. We are super deep in our lineups. We are four and five guys deep that can compete at a world-class level in any of those divisions.
"You are talking about guys who have only lost title fights and are young guys at that. Joseph and Chad are still young in their careers, and I still have plenty of years left in mine. We all live healthy lifestyles. Danny Castillo has been on a tear, as well, and he's one of the main guys on our team.
"We weren't planning on losing any of these fights, and on top of that we brought in a new coach in Duane Ludwig who is inspiring and is a great addition to the group. It brings a great energy to the gym and is extremely motivating."
"These title shots are not going to stop," he added. "We are going to be getting title shots for the next 15 years if everything goes the way I want it to."
After a decade competing at the highest level of the sport, most fighters would be winding things to a close, but Faber is far from the norm. The Sacramento-based former title challenger has built a storied career and has continued to hover on the title radar every step of the way.
His two most recent victories have come in dominant fashion over two established veterans the likes of Ivan Menjivar and Scott Jorgensen. He faces Yuri Alcantara this weekend at UFC Fight Night 26: Shogun vs. Sonnen, and a victory for Faber in Boston will put him on the doorstep of another title shot at 135 pounds.
While another championship opportunity would be nice, Faber doesn't concern himself too heavily with what will come next. His main focus these days is to keep the momentum rolling and enjoy being in a position to capitalize on opportunities after 10 years competing inside the cage.
"It feels great to be a decade into my career and still rolling," Faber said. "Especially these days with so many naysayers. There is the Internet, social media and all of these new reporters that want to jump into the game and they think they know what they are talking about.
"All I can do is shut out the negativity, embrace the positive vibes, train and perform the way I know I have to, and silence the naysayers by doing. I'm not a talker...I'm a doer. That's what I'm going to continue to do. Each year is a new year that brings new opportunities and I'm right here ready to seize them.
"Having fun is very important and I kind of got away from that for awhile. Right after The Ultimate Fighter, I had a big opportunity taken away from me when [Dominick] Cruz and I were supposed to fight. I started dwelling on stupid little things like money and missed opportunities, and I had to get myself out of that head space right away. I had to realize how lucky I am and how fun this career is. I had to make sure I was getting out to the ocean and enjoying life instead of dwelling on the things that didn't happen. That's no way to live. It's no way to better your career. Now, I'm always reminding myself on what I need to focus on, and that is enjoying life.
"I'm just going to keep rolling and that is where my head is at," Faber added. "I know there are opportunities out there, and they are there because I've been working hard and performing. I'm going to continue to do that."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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