An Interview with WEC Featherweight Star Urijah Faber

Brian Oswald@@briancoswaldMMA Editor May 26, 2009

A fighter’s mentality is the key to his success.

The road less traveled has been the key to success for Urijah Faber. He is known for his laid back California mentality, but his mentality goes beyond the stereotype. For Faber, it’s about a holistic way of life. That way of life has lead Faber from being a collegiate wrestler to the consummate mixed martial artist.

Never one to follow the norm, Faber favors staying in the moment, which has afforded him the ability to let loose and be creative inside the cage. At WEC 36 however, Faber found himself caught in an unlikely moment against unheralded Mike Brown.

Coming off the cage, Faber threw an errant backspin elbow strike, which Mike Brown turned into the opportunity he needed to finish the fight. The finish came with Brown grounding and pounding Faber out of commission, taking Faber’s featherweight belt in the process.

Now Faber is a man on a mission. He is focused on exacting revenge on Brown at WEC 41, taking back his belt and reigning atop the featherweight division for years to come. We had the chance to catch up with Faber and talk about Mike Brown, a superfight with Miguel Torres and why he’d rather fight UFC lightweights over WEC lightweights.

Check it out.

Brian Oswald: Talk to us about growing up in Isla Vista, CA and the laid back California mentality people associate to you.

Urijah Faber: I was born in a house in Isla Vista. I was raised in a bit of a hippie environment. I was lying around naked until I was two, having a good time. I think the California mentality is laid back and I definitely embody that. Aside from being a fighter, I am a relaxed person. It is a lifestyle thing for me. I don’t stress too much.

As far as fighting, I just love to fight and enjoy my life more because of that. I think that it is pretty apparent to those who know me that I do this because of the love. I am not looking to get famous or acquire a bunch of cash. I am following my passion and that’s what is about for me.

Brian Oswald: Can you talk to us about being holistic and how that plays a part in your fight regimen?

Urijah Faber: The lifestyle of coming from a holistic background has helped me on the physical side of things. Diet and nutrition are obviously important - not just treating the symptoms but preventing the problems from happening to prevent sickness. I have never had any immunization shots and very rarely use traditional medicine.

Not only is being holistic good for me health wise, especially with conditioning, it’s also about walking your own path in life and not being so worried about going with the norm. I have always been a leader in that respect. I think my parents gave me a unique name and I have created this unique lifestyle that makes me who I am; it’s a cool way of living.

I think other people use this same mentality in other professions, whether it’s as a teacher or a lawyer. It can be integrated into any profession; I just happen to love fighting and happen to be great at it. And I let my lifestyle carry over into my chosen profession.

Brian Oswald: Besides wrestling in high school, you also played football. What made you decide to choose wrestling as your primary sport when you matriculated at the University of California-Davis?

Urijah Faber: There was just something about wrestling that appealed to me. I had been playing football since the third grade and I picked up wrestling in the seventh grade and eight grades. I just felt like there was so much to be learned. It was so technical and so difficult to be great at.

I just wasn’t finished with it when I graduated high school. There was still a big part of me that wanted to see what I could do with the sport; the desire was huge. I just followed my passion. I loved playing football but wrestling just took over the last few years of high school.

Brian Oswald: In 2006, you made your WEC debut, defeating Cole Escovedo by TKO corner stoppage after the end of the second round. The victory put the WEC featherweight title around your waist. Talk to us about that fight and what winning the WEC belt meant to you at the time.

Urijah Faber: At that time, the WEC was not quite to the level that it is now. For me, it was a step toward unifying the tiles. I had the King of the Cage title and the Gladiator Challenge title.

Because we didn’t have a real place to shine at that point I was just going to go around and get all the belts and establish myself as the best lighter weight fighter and make a name for myself. There wasn’t an organization out there that was featuring the 145 weight class.

In college I wrestled at 133 pounds and I would have liked to start out at 135 pounds in MMA but I had to do my first two fights at 155 pounds and made a stance at 145. I became a headliner at that weight class. At the time, capturing the WEC belt was just another step toward establishing myself as the best.

Brian Oswald: You held that title for two-and-a-half years until your loss to Mike Brown at WEC 36 last year. A lot of people thought you were unstoppable at 145 pounds and were shocked, not only by the loss, but by how you lost the fight. Do you feel like you took Mike Brown too lightly going into that fight?

Urijah Faber: I just watched the fight again last night. I trained hard for that fight. I did not take Mike Brown lightly at all. He caught me with a heavy punch and that is a situation I put myself in. I was not unconscious on the ground, and was still defending myself, but I can see why the referee would end the fight.

As far as I go, I know that I put 100 percent in that fight. I made a mistake and Mike Brown capitalized on that. I am looking forward to avenging that. I’ve competed my whole life and it’s not the first time I have felt defeat before. I hate to lose but having the belt doesn’t define who I am. It’s how I live my life and what I put into things is what defines me.

It will be easy for me to come back with that mentality. I am going to take back my belt and reign on top again. I will exact my revenge on Brown and have fun while doing it. I will do my part to make it exciting; I don’t think the fans will be disappointed.

Brian Oswald: In your rematch with Brown, are you going to adopt a new strategy for the fight; are you going to be more a little cautious this time around?

Urijah Faber: I definitely have to adopt new strategies whether it was because of preparation or because I simply made a mental mistake. You have to change things up so I have made a few changes to make sure I dominate the fight.

I added a few more workouts a week to put some weight on in my legs. That way I can increase my explosive power and still be fast. I will be a little bit heavier going in; knowing that he is a bigger guy then I am. I have brought in another boxing coach to get another perspective and add some more technique to my stand up game.

I have a great gameplan coming together. I will obviously be keeping my eye on him and not jump into him with my head turned away and get caught (laughs).

Brian Oswald: Both you and Mike Brown are excellent wrestlers with great takedown defense. Both of you also have great submission games. Are we destined for a stand up war in this fight?

It is very probable. I have never been known to be a big planner. When I enter a fight; I don’t know exactly what will happen. But a lot of times that happens; two grapplers cancel each other out and you see a stand up war. I am fine with a stand up fight and I will be fine if it goes to the ground. We will have to see; I am ready to go wherever the fight goes.

Brian Oswald: What makes you a better fighter than Mike Brown? Is it something specific like your Muay Thai or something more intrinsic like your ability to blend all the martial arts together?

Urijah Faber: I think one of my biggest strengths overall is staying in the moment. I talk to my guys in practice about having the right mentality for the sport. There is a reason why I decided to get into this sport and it is because I truly believe that no one can beat me.

That is the mentality I maintain at all times. And I add tools to that mentality to make it happen inside the cage. When I started, I was just a wrestler who liked to fight. The more tools that I add to my arsenal, the more I am able to let loose and be creative in the moment. I feel comfortable everywhere and with everything in the game.

The biggest advantage I have on Brown is the overall aspect of it. I just don’t mean being a better rounded fighter. I mean in mind, in heart; and being a stronger competitor. I find ways to win and I am a consistent person and I truly believe I am the best.

I will have little advantages on the technical side of things but for sure, I am going to have an edge on the mental side.

Brian Oswald: Eleven of your 22 wins have come by way of submission. The guillotine choke is your submission of choice. How did you get so good at submissions, given that your background is collegiate wrestling?

Urijah Faber: I have done a lot of work on my submission game. I have had some great instructors, world class BJJ instructors. I have a team of guys I work with and we are always finding ways to improve through videos, instructionals and seminars. My newest BJJ coach is Fabio Prado who has taken second and third in the world in jiu-jitsu.

I have just had a willingness to learn it. I had a fire to learn from the best. Whenever I meet someone new that has something to offer, I try to pick their brain and integrate it into what I do.

That is the mindset you have to have in this sport. I took my wrestling mentality and applied to both the stand up and the jiu jitsu side also. It just all integrates together when it comes to that.

Brian Oswald: In your WEC 28 post fight interview, you called out K-1’s 2005 middleweight tournament champion Norifumi Yamamoto (154 lbs.) but the fight never happened. Yamamoto is making his return to MMA at Dream 9 later this month. Is there still interest on your part in putting that fight together if he were to sign with the WEC?

Urijah Faber: Yeah, definitely, I would love to. He has a huge following and is one of the more exciting fighters out there. People feel the same about me. As far as super fights go, I think that would be a huge fight. He really is one of the best fighters in the world with his pedigree. I think it would be a great fight and would love to see it happen.

The problem is he gets paid so much money in Japan; he is a superstar. His family is royalty over there. I don’t know if the WEC can pony up enough cash to get him. Perhaps they could do some sort of PPV event to make it happen.

Brian Oswald: In my recent interview with Reed Harris, he called you the consummate mixed martial artist. What does it mean to you to have Reed Harris show so much respect for you as both a fighter and a person?

Urijah Faber: It means a lot. I try to be a good example for this sport and put my all into it. Reed has been around the sport for along time. He knows fighting and he is friends with a lot of the top fighters so it means a lot for him to speak out on my behalf.

I appreciate the support I get in general from all people. It is great to be considered a good fighter and be appreciated for that but it is even better to be considered a good person. I am very grateful, that is for sure.

Brian Oswald: The WEC took you down to Mexico recently and the fans absolutely loved you. Tell us about that experience. What was it like to have the fans of another country connect with you as well as a fighter?

Urijah Faber: It was pretty neat. I had to break through communication barrier but I went on a few of their TV programs and did a lot of interviews. I think there is bright future for the sport down there.

Mexico has great fighters; they have that fighting mentality in their blood. I can’t wait for MMA to take hold down there like it has in other parts of the world. I love that I can be an ambassador for the sport.

Brian Oswald: Not to look ahead, but a lot of people would love to see Miguel Torres move up and fight you at 145 pounds, or perhaps you could move down to 135. Do you have any interest in a superfight with Miguel Torres down the line?

Urijah Faber: Definitely. I want to do all the fights that people want to see. That is one that I think would interest a lot of people. I like Miguel Torres and we both have the fighting spirit. I would like to see Miguel reign a little bit longer at 135.

I have a guy on my team named Joseph Benavidez who just beat Jeff Curran at WEC 40. I think he deserves a shot at Miguel Torres before I do. A fight between Miguel Torres and I down in Mexico City would be huge!

Brian Oswald: What are your thoughts on former UFC lightweights like Leonard Garcia and Manny Gamburyan moving down to the WEC featherweight division? I guess it just means better competition for guys like you?

Urijah Faber: I think it so. I feel like when you the elite fighters in the right weight class, every fight will be tough. I don’t necessarily think those guys are the best in the world at their new weight classes though.

Leonard talked a lot going into his fight with Brown, and said some things about me I didn’t agree with. He seems to like to say stuff without thinking them through. He seems like a nice enough guy though. I think a fight would be just as difficult as some of those guys dropping down from the UFC lightweight division. It is all about the caliber of fighter.

Brian Oswald: A lot of people have talked about you moving up to fight in the UFC lightweight division. But first things first; would you consider moving up to the WEC lightweight division and fighting the current champion Jaime Varner. Is 155 pounds even ideal for your frame?

Urijah Faber: I would definitely fight at 155 again. I would be smaller then those guys but if there is an exciting fight that the fans want to see I want it to happen. At this point in my career, I would rather go up and fight one of the UFC lightweights, whoever has the belt.

I am looking for superfights that the fans want to see. No disrespect to the WEC lightweights, but I want to fight in the most exciting fights, against the best fighters, the fighters the fans know and like best. Like a fight with BJ Penn or Kenny Florian.

Brian Oswald: Other then your loss to Mike Brown, the only blemish on your stellar record is to Tyson Griffin. That fight was back in 2005. Do you still think about that fight and would you feel better if you got to avenge that loss?

Urijah Faber: I think before it is all said and done he and I should fight again. Right now we are on different career paths but those paths should cross at some point. The first fight was a great fight and a second fight would be even better. We are both so much better fighters at this point.

Before my career is over I will fight Tyson Griffin again.

Brian Oswald: You fought a legend in Jens Pulver; not once but twice. Your first fight was an all our war and your second fight ended in a quick submission victory. What are your thoughts on Jens Pulver’s place in the sport and do you think he is still a top 10 featherweight in MMA?

Urijah Faber: He has lost some tough fights. He got caught with a haymaker by Garcia and I caught him with a big body shot. It is hard to say at this point, but as far as his last string of fights, you can’t put him in the top tier.

But he is a game competitor; he has fought and lost to the best. He has what it takes to beat the top fighters so we will see if things turn around for him.

Brian Oswald: You recently turned 30 years young. Happy Birthday man. How did you celebrate your birthday last week?

Urijah Faber: Thanks brother. I had a little barbecue with about 40 people over. Just relaxed with each other; I not huge on celebrating. I don’t usually do extravagant things. It is usually just family and close friends.

I am just enjoying life. My mom said the 30s were the best years of her life so I am looking forward to that. Thirty is the new 22 so I feel I have a good string of years to look forward to.

Brian Oswald: How long can you continue to compete at the top this MMA game and what is left for you to add on to your MMA heritage? Would you like to be a multiple title holder; what is it that will solidify your legacy as one of the MMA greats?

Urijah Faber: I want to be remembered as one of the best. Legends of the sport are still competing and finishing up their careers. I want to be the most exciting fighters out there.

With my upcoming fight, I want to be a multi-time champion. I want to be a multiple division champion. I still have a lot of goals; it is a matter of staying the course, being consistent and persistent, and making it happens. There are a lot of big fights out there still; especially the superfights.

Brian Oswald: It looks like were wrapping things up. Is there any shout outs you want to get out there?

Urijah Faber: I just want to thank for fans for all their support. Be sure to check out urijahfaber.com.

Brian Oswald: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. We look forward to you being both consistent and persistent in your future and best in your fight with Mike Brown.

Urijah Faber: Thanks brother, thank you very much.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.