A mere 17 months ago, Urijah Faber lorded over the Featherweight division.
He had just defeated former UFC Lightweight Champion Jens Pulver in a tense, back-and-forth battle. The road was seemingly clear for him to continue his reign into infinity with an aura unlike anything the young organization had ever known.
Then the unthinkable happened at WEC 36, as unknown journeyman lightweight Mike Thomas Brown landed a crushing right hand to the champion's flourishing chin. The former Bonny Eagle wrestling standout ceased his moment and took the belt.
Almost as soon as his hand was raised, Brown went from journeyman lightweight to a consensus top-five pound-for-pound fighter. Faber's star remained intact, as many saw the strike that led to the finish as nothing short of a fluke and almost unanimously waited for the day of the rematch.
That day came seven months later at WEC 41. However, it failed again to provide the resolution we desired. After round one, Faber told his corner he'd fractured his hand, which was preventing him throwing his most effective strikes.
He would use ring movement and well-timed elbows to score points, but ultimately the injury claimed any intrigue the fight had to offer, and Faber eventually lost by unanimous decision.
Shortly before that fight, Jose Aldo had officially made his mark, extinguishing Cub Swanson in eight seconds, and in so doing secured himself a chance to face the champion.
The stock on Brown was never higher entering WEC 44. However, Aldo's radiance had not gone unnoticed, and he entered as a slight favorite in the eyes of pundits to dethrone the champion. They would be proven accurate, as a stiff and overwhelmed Brown was dismantled in round two.
A new king was born.
Now we stand with a new seemingly untouchable champion and a former champion with legitimate excuses for both of his WEC defeats.
Overconfidence and injury.
At WEC 48, Faber will be afforded no more of them. No more wacky spinning, jumping back elbows, flying knees against the cage. Even if injury strikes again, he'll be quickly labeled a whiner, like Tito Ortiz, or dismissed as fragile, like Josh Thomson.
It's time to pass judgment on the career of the person whose flowing mane and constant mom-loving has made the 145-pound division what it is today.
Is he the greatest featherweight? Or like so many trailblazers in the past, will he be supplanted officially by a former 155-pounder who moved down largely because he laid the trail for him?
Of course, there is no shame losing to a man as supremely talented as Jose Aldo. However, when the lights fall on the main event Saturday night, that question will finally be answered.
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