By Carlin Bardsley
Urijah Faber enters his fight with Yuri Alcantara this Saturday in unfamiliar territory.
Not the UFC, where he’ll be competing for the seventh time. Not even Boston, although “The California Kid” would probably be more appreciative of his native climate than the northeast US. The unfamiliar territory is the lack of 10 pounds of gold on the line.
Faber’s fight with Alcantara will mark his third consecutive fight without a title on the line, something that has only happened to him one other time, back when he was starting his career in 2004. Since then he has been synonymous with the pinnacle of the sport in his chosen divisions, ruling the roost in King of the Cage, and his star-making run as WEC featherweight champion.
But the last couple of years have seen Faber's title ambitions fall by the wayside, first at featherweight against Mike Brown and Jose Aldo; followed by bantamweight title losses to Dominick Cruz and Renan Barao. Faber insists that the feeling isn't much different heading into Saturday's contest.
“I treat all these fights like they're championship fights anyways,” Faber said. “It doesn't do anything different for me, that's for sure. This guy's tough. He may actually be tougher than the champ. Who knows?”
His opponent presents a unique challenge for Faber not just in his skills, but in his comparative anonymity. Even away from the title, Faber's opponents are names that are recognized by followers of the UFC. Ivan Menjivar and Scott Jorgenson are veterans of the sport and recognizable names from anyone who has watched UFC and the lighter weights predecessor WEC.
But mention Alcantara's name to the casual fan and most people will respond with a look akin to when a dog hears a kazoo for the first time. Despite competing on five UFC events, he has yet to compete outside of his native Brazil in the promotion. With viewership for UFC's Brazil-centric events typically lower than other cards, Alcantara remains an unknown to most non-hardcore fans.
“The biggest difference is that I've had more TV time, I've got maybe a little bit more personality for the (North American) fans since he doesn't speak English,” Faber explained.
“But he's 28-4, he's fought in the WEC and in the UFC. He's fought at 155 and 145 pounds, he's beat guys like (Michihiro) Omigawa. He's beat top contenders at 155 with great finishes. I think people just need to do their research.”
The scuttled situation in the UFC bantamweight division has left Faber searching for options. Ordinarily, a fighter of his stature may be tempted to rest on two consecutive victories over top contenders and wait for a title shot. But with champion Cruz and interim champion Barao both on the sidelines due to injury, Faber has chosen not only to stay active, but take a dangerous fight against an unheralded opponent. He is even looking beyond the Alcantara fight at the possibility of a trip outside the bantamweight division.
"I'm going to talk to (UFC President) Dana (White) and (UFC executive) Lorenzo (Fertitta) and see if we can set up some super-fights," Faber told MMAJunkie. "Maybe even go up to 145 to do some stuff. I feel like I need to be in some fights that really matter. Not that this one doesn't ... this guy's very tough, but that people care about."
No matter his opponent, the best case for Faber to receive another title shot is to keep winning. Fans and management alike remain high on Faber both for his skills and persona. “The California Kid” remains the most marketable figure in the company under 155 pounds, with his relaxed, surfer-esque persona and trademark butt-chin.
Persona and drawing power aside, Faber has looked re-invigorated in the Octagon as of late. Some of that can be attributed to Duane Ludwig, who has taken over as the striking coach for Faber's camp Team Alpha Male.
Under the feared striker Ludwig's tutelage, Alpha Male has gone from a group known primarily as wrestlers to a more well-rounded group, and success has followed. Not only is Faber back to his winning ways, but many other Alpha Male products are on win streaks as well. Faber is looking to capitalize on the momentum that has turned Alpha Male into one of the hottest camps in the sport.
“You could say (it's been a career renaissance). Duane's brought some structure and we love having him here. He's doing some pretty awesome stuff, he's an incredible coach. The bottom line is we're coming for the straps,” Faber said.
“Since Duane came in, Joseph is number two in the world, Chad is number two in the world, I'm number two in the world, TJ Dillashaw's fifth in the world and Danny Castillo's on a big win streak. It's obvious that Duane's been doing some things that are right but we're still looking to make some big gains. (Ludwig) came in with a pretty set team and he's making us that much better.”
With his past laurels moving farther and farther away from him and his future uncertain, Faber has no choice but to focus on the sweet, sticky now. One thing for Faber is certain, he's not planning on going away anytime soon.