I am not into the "Urijah Faber is so close to greatness" narrative. In my book, and in the opinion of most who watched his featherweight performances in the WEC where he basically held the division up, he has already more than proven himself.
At UFC 169, however, Faber came up short once again in his quest to gain the UFC belt which has eluded him since the WEC was merged into the UFC. Let's take a look at how the fight went down.
Coming into this title bout, much was made of Faber's improvement on the feet under coach Duane Ludwig. But even the best coach can only do so much in a relatively short time with a fighter who is well into his career and is set in his ways.
In Faber's last two fights, there was little present which wasn't there before. Timing the right hand over the top, an absence of left-handed strikes, it was the same Faber, still capable of crushing everyone but the truly elite.
The opening of the bout showed more movement from Faber and, to his credit, he was not standing directly in front of Barao in kicking range as he did throughout their first bout and his bout with Aldo. As the fight progressed, it was the usual Faber, though, and he showed little for Barao to worry about until the stoppage, though it could have been considered a strange point to stop the fight.
Something which I regret not including in my short piece on Renan Barao before the fight (time constraints prevented a complete "Killing the King") was the idea of pinning an opponent in place with low kicks. Now if you punt an opponent's leg out of his stance, he is stuck in one place while you are able to run in on him, but if he checks the kick, he isn't in much better position.
There is no one in the world who can box off of one leg. A few guys can punch off of one leg, Benson Henderson and Yodsanklai Fairtex do it all the time when their kicks are caught, but few can defend against punches nearly so well when they are checking kicks. When one leg is off of the mat, a fighter has no means to control distance and evade strikes.
Think about how many men Dan Henderson has held in place for that headache maker of a right hand with stumpy inside low kicks alone. It's not the most subtle set up, but you either check it or you eat it, and both make it hard to run away from the right hand.
The watershed moment in this bout came as Faber was caught with a hard outside low kick to his lead leg, attempted to check the next one but instead was punched in the chops with a long right straight as he stood on one leg.
Now this rooting the opponent to the ground by forcing him to lift a leg is something which I had hoped we would see from Faber. In the first bout between Faber and Barao, Faber was actually very effective with an inside low kick against Barao. This chopped away at Barao's stance or forced Barao to check. The problem was that Faber never followed up.
In their rematch at UFC 169, Faber failed to follow up on the same success. He landed decently with a few inside low kicks, and he mucked around with Barao's stance and ability to move for an instance each time he did so. But rather than use that opportunity to follow up on the kick by planting his lead foot and start punching after he had kicked, Faber simply kicked or punched.
His actions were predictable, and each time he ran in with a flurry, there was absolutely no reason for Barao to be stood there.
As a general rule, if an opponent is not:
1. backed up to the fence or ropes
2. moving in or
3. on one leg or off balance from a trip or kick...
There is absolutely no reason for him to not simply move out of the way when you rush him.
On a similar note to all this low-kicking-into-punches stuff: In the co-main event, Ricardo Lamas attempted low kicks against Jose Aldo, and Aldo checked almost every one. You can't expect to land naked kicks on a guy like Aldo or Barao, but a fighter can and should try to get in behind those kicks and land some punches while the checking fighter is on one leg or recovering.
Urijah Faber has all the talent in the world. And he has a brilliant coach and camp. He just needs to sit down, watch the tape and decide whether he wants to keep working kickboxing with an elite kickboxer if he intends to simply run in with overhand rights when fight time comes.