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This fight represents Renan Barao's chance to become the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. Unless, of course, Chris Weidman beats Vitor Belfort. Then HE's the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. Nevermind the fact Jon Jones beat Belfort well over a year ago and still hasn't lost.
Dana White's fumbling promotional efforts aside, this main event is a fun one. One feels for Dominick Cruz, the former champion who must watch Barao and Urijah Faber defend the title he never lost in the Octagon. But if the replacement fight ultimately sees a challenger riding the biggest surge of his career stepping in the cage to face a man on the verge of being one of the sport's most terrifying champions, well, that's OK. In the end, we all win.
Since losing to Barao on July 21, 2012, Faber has four consecutive victories, all of them occuring during the 2013 calendar year. As I recently said on the URFC 169 Countdown show, if not for Chris Weidman beating Anderson Silva two times in one year, there is zero doubt Faber would be the shoo-in for Fighter of the Year. "The California Kid" was just that good in 2013.
How is Faber, as he approaches his mid-30s, getting better? We are jaded in mixed martial arts, because "getting better at 35" usually means "testosterone replacement therapy." But that is not the case for Faber. He is more fanatical about taking care of his body than anybody I've ever known; teammate Joseph Benavidez recently told me Faber never takes time off, never break his diet. He doesn't binge on sweets and balloon up to an unmanageable weight when he's done with a training camp.
He is ready, 365 days a year, and that is why he was ready when the UFC called him in to face Barao. It's not really a "late notice" fight for Faber, because he is a man constantly in training camp. His entire life is a training camp.
Faber last competed in December with a stunning mauling of Michael McDonald. Barao, meanwhile, hasn't fought since September. And so it is Faber, not the champion, who comes into the cage with momentum.
After so many recent heartbreaks in championship fights, I believe this is the one where Faber gets it done. He is in stunning condition. He is firing on all cylinders. He won't be rusty. As long as his oft-injured hands hold up, this is the fight where Faber finally brings a UFC championship home to Sacramento.
Prediction: Urijah Faber
Value play: Urijah Faber at +230