He has come to embody the "laid-back" California mentality, and, aside from being a fighter, he claims to be a relaxed person. He fights because of his love for it—he did not get into the sport because he was looking to get famous or acquire "a bunch of cash."
"I am following my passion and that's what it is about for me," Faber told me in a 2009 interview.
That passion, though, did lead him barreling down a path of both fame and fortune—an inevitable journey when you combine his looks and personality with one of the best records in the history of this young sport.
For Faber, his "mental game" is everything—and he keeps it simple. When asked how he keeps his mind sharp—was it with yoga, tai chi or visualization?—he plainly stated, "I work my butt off and have a positive attitude. That's it."
It really is that simple for the California kid with "California Love" (his signature walkout song on Fight Night).
Coming out of his fight at UFC 139, all the way back in November of 2011 when he ran circles around a previously impressive-looking Brian Bowles, Faber looked to be better—both in mind and body—than ever.
That one-sided affair came just four months after a title fight at UFC 132, where he came up short against his nemesis Dominick Cruz. Faber landed the harder shots, but Cruz edged him out with his sheer volume of strikes, winning an uneven unanimous decision (50–45, 49–46, 48–47).
But despite being only one fight (and win) removed from that title-shot loss, his evisceration of Bowles was enough to earn him an Octagon rematch with Cruz (technically, it would be their third fight since Faber defeated Cruz at featherweight at WEC 26 in 2007).
Faber was selected to be a coach on The Ultimate Fighter: Live opposite Cruz, something Faber told Bleacher Report he was committed to—a three-and-a-half-month commitment, to be exact. The culmination of the season, as it is with every season, would call for the two coaches to face off.
Cruz vs. Faber III was supposed to take place on July 7, 2012 at UFC 148. But it was never to be.
Cruz was forced to pull out of the bout due to an ACL injury. For Faber, who remained healthy and ready to go, things quickly spiraled downward.
A replacement opponent was found in the form of Renan Barao, an incredibly dangerous and only once-beaten Brazilian stalwart who was painfully unheralded. This was a lose-lose proposition for Faber, who was fixed on exacting revenge on Cruz.
Their tilt, which would determine the interim bantamweight champion, was originally scheduled for UFC 148: Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen II, but it was ultimately shipped south to UFC 149, which needed a headliner when featherweight champ Jose Aldo was forced off due to his own injury.
Faber went from co-main event status at UFC 148, which ending up getting a million PPV buys, to headlining a UFC 149 PPV (a fight card with little supporting cast for Faber) that ended up yielding less than 250,000 buys.
It was not the best of times for Faber.
The seven-month span that sat between his beatdown of Bowles to his uninspired effort against Barao was one of the low points of his life—not just professionally, but personally.
"I had to deal with the accident of my sister, which was a pretty traumatic event in my life," Faber said. "She had a really terrible car accident and had to have five brain surgeries. That was the 'break' before the Barao fight.
"Also, the UFC asked me to do The Ultimate Fighter. It was a three-and-a-half-month commitment that I had to sit out for. But the reward was going to be huge. I got this big fight on Fourth of July weekend. A huge PPV check. This huge buildup. It was definitely worth the wait, worth signing a new contract for.
"And it kinda got yanked out from under me. It was a tough year.
"To go from being on this huge event, where I think they set a record for most people in attendance at just the pre-workouts and weigh-ins to being in Canada against Renan Barao, who had like 2,000 followers on Twitter but who was on a 30-fight win streak. There wasn't much promotion behind it. The supporting cast wasn't there. It was a crappy way to go into a fight that was supposed to be for so much. I fought my best, but it was hard not to be affected by all of that."
Through all of that, Faber persevered. All of that hard work, combined with a positive attitude, did wonders.
But, alas, he did lose the fight to Barao at UFC 149. It was his second loss in a UFC title fight in as many fights. Not exactly what Faber had hoped for his UFC career.
That has been the knock on Faber for a while now, though: that he can't win the "big one."
The victory ran his WEC title fight record to 6-0, but things went downhill from there, perhaps due to the fact that he was facing stiffer competition.
It started with a pair of losses to Mike Brown, the first time defending his belt and the second time attempting to get it back. Then, at WEC 48, his legs were pulverized by kicks courtesy of Aldo, though he somehow survived until the final bell.
Since that loss—and since dropping to bantamweight under the Zuffa banner—Faber has gone 7-2 in his new division. The two losses? The aforementioned title fights with Cruz and Barao.
All told, he is 0-5 in title bouts since his first loss to Brown more than five years ago.
|Cole Escovedo||WEC 19||W||2006|
|Joe Pearson||WEC 25||W||2007|
|Dominick Cruz||WEC 26||W||2007|
|Chance Farrar||WEC 28||W||2007|
|Jeff Curran||WEC 31||W||2007|
|Jens Pulver||WEC 34||W||2008|
|Mike Brown||WEC 36||L||2008|
|Mike Brown||WEC 41||L||2009|
|José Aldo||WEC 48||L||2010|
|Dominick Cruz||UFC 132||L||2011|
|Renan Barão||UFC 149||L||2012|
|Renan Barão||UFC 169||TBD||2014|
Urijah Faber's Wikipedia Page
But he can erase all of that history with a win over Barao this Saturday night at UFC 169. It's a fight Faber slid into after Cruz, who was supposed to face Barao in a bantamweight unification title fight, was forced to pull out once again—this time with a groin injury.
Faber's 4-0 record in 2013 certainly helped him be in the right place at the right time.
OK, so he cannot blot out his past title-fight digressions—not even close. But he can break the dry spell, exact some revenge on Barao and finally, after all of these years, call himself a UFC champion.
But can he get by the streaking Brazilian? A Barao who looks better than ever? Who looks unbeatable?
He's a mercenary who can outstrike his opponents on the feet or sink them with torpedo-like submissions on the ground. And if for some reason he cannot finish the fight early, as was the case with Faber, he will outpoint the opposition by using his speed and creating distance—by simply being a better mixed martial artist.
In the first fight with Faber, he controlled the pace and slowed him down. Faber knows this. He admitted all of that and more to Ariel Helwani in his recent MMA Hour interview.
So how does he beat Barao? Faber circles back to the mental game with Bleacher Report.
"This whole year has been a training camp for me," Faber said. "Fight after fight. Training camp after training camp. I'm in the right head space. I'm ready, man, this is the big opportunity and I'm ready to seize it. A three-week training camp doesn't give much window, but this fight is not about my body, it's about my mind. It's about the mental game. The only difficult thing abut this fight was the weight cut—everything else was perfect.
"I know Barao is a tough skilled competitor. So am I. It's all going to come down to that night and who best imposes their will. I need to find a way to win, and that is what I am going to do. I am just going to take the fight as a new experience, and I am not planning anything ahead. I am going to apply my skills and look for and create the best opportunities possible."
And what if Faber should lose for a second time against Barao, running his recent record in title fights to a tough-to-swallow 0-6 since November 2008? Faber is not thinking about that outcome, much less retirement. He is simply excited for the opportunity to be in one more fight that counts.
"I have not really thought about that scenario," Faber said. "I'm always just thinking about what is in front of me, and winning. I'm definitely not in a position where I am thinking about retirement. It is kind of ridiculous to think about things like that. To not be in the moment. I will make those kind of decisions when I cross that road.
"And I will probably stop fighting when I get tired of it. Right now I am super excited about the sport and I think there are some big fights...win, lose or draw. I've got a whole string of championship fights I want to have where I get paid a ton of dough and rise back to the top of the MMA world. And this is the first step step in that right direction.
"I like being in events that count. This one is for the championship of the world. It's Super Bowl weekend. In the Big Apple. I am ready to fight. I am excited, not nervous. I'm hungry, antsy. Just a waiting game at this point. I'm ready to rumble."
And if Faber should emerge victorious in this first title fight since defeating Pulver over five years ago back at WEC 34, what is his ideal scenario for a first fight as the newly crowned UFC champ?
Completing the trilogy with Cruz, of course.
"Definitely the ideal scenario," Faber said. "But we will see if they give Dominick the opportunity to fight right away. I'd like to see that. I'm not sure how that's going to pan out, but I hope he heals up and I get first crack at him. But I think part of the reason they stripped him is that they are not sure if that's the way it's going to pan out. We'll see what happens."
At UFC 169, gold is on the line for Faber once again, something he has coveted ever since he started competing in this sport.
Who you got?
Beyond the belt, Faber can alter, to some extent, the narrative of his career and what his lasting legacy in the sport will be. It is only fitting that his third, and possibly final, shot at wrapping a UFC belt around his waist falls on Super Bowl weekend.
Peyton Manning won it all back in 2007 after coming up short time and time again. The Buffalo Bills, unsuccessful in four trips to the big game, not so much.
Which way will Faber's fortune break? It's hard to say.
However it breaks, though, rest assured that Faber won't. He will keep working his butt off, positive attitude forever intact. This hardworking hippie will keep fighting his fight, earning title shots until he doesn't anymore, ending all of it on his terms.
Brian Oswald is the MMA editor for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.