By this point, I think every joke from the “Urijah Faber gets so many title shots” joke book has been used. Considering the 33-year-old perennial contender is in action again this weekend, chances are social media will prove me wrong, especially if Faber comes away from his UFC 157 showdown with Canadian Ivan Menjivar victorious.
For those who haven’t followed the career trajectory of “The California Kid” in recent years (or at all), it basically goes like this:
Since losing the WEC featherweight title to Mike Thomas Brown on November 5, 2008, Faber has gone a perfect 5-0 in non-title contests, and 0-4 in the subsequent title shots he’s received as a result of those victories. During that span, Faber has returned to the roll of title challenger with just a single win on three occasions, and he needed just two victories before he was tabbed to face Dominick Cruz for the UFC bantamweight title in the other.
The pattern makes the charismatic Faber an easy target, but it also speaks highly to just how talented the former WEC standout and head alpha male of Team Alpha Male has been throughout his career.
Does Faber get an inordinately high number of chances to put himself back into championship matches? Absolutely, but you can’t knock his placement in championship fight after championship fight without recognizing that he’s perpetually doing what it takes to earn his way into those match-ups.
I’ve spoken to Faber about this issue a number of times in the past, and his response is always the same: if you don’t like it, find someone who can beat me. He usually says it with a bit of a dismissive laugh, because he’s not really the arrogant, smarmy type.
That being said, the guy has a point.
After losing to Jose Aldo at WEC 48, Faber decided it was time to move down in weight and try his hand in the bantamweight division. He submitted perennial gatekeeper (and former title challenger) Takeya Mizugaki in his divisional debut, and then halted Eddie Wineland’s four-fight winning streak in his inaugural UFC appearance, setting up his rematch with Dominick Cruz at UFC 132.
Faber faced and finished former champion Brian Bowles 90 seconds into the second round of their fight at UFC 139 following his loss to Cruz, which led to the two rivals being tabbed as coaches on the first (and only) live season of The Ultimate Fighter last year.
The plan was to have their feud build to a crescendo in the summer when they shared the cage once again, but the best laid plans of mice, men, and Dana White fell to bits when Cruz blew out his knee. Faber remained in the title picture though, dropping a unanimous decision to Renan Barao in the main event of the UFC’s forgettable first event in Calgary last summer.
Which brings us to his meeting this weekend with Menjivar, a solid veteran enjoying a nice resurgence courtesy of a 4-1 run who currently sits 10th in the latest edition of the UFC rankings. Faber, it should be noted, rests in the second position, behind only Barao, who successfully defended his interim title last weekend in London, England.
A victory on Saturday won’t catapult Faber into another title shot; he’s only seven months removed from losing to Barao, and it’s likely that the Brazilian standout will sit out until Cruz is ready to return for a title unification bout later this year.
Even if Cruz’ return is delayed again, there is a greater chance of Wineland or Raphael Assuncao being tabbed to take on Barao, as they have collected two and three consecutive UFC victories, respectively, and would be fresh faces to enter into the title discussion at this point.
Of course, Faber has already beaten both in the past, and that is where the criticism of his perpetually being a title contender comes up short.
I can’t think of another fighter in any division who has consistently beaten quality competition and managed to keep themselves in the title conversation in their respective division for the last five years outside of Faber.
We’ve seen champions and contenders come and go across every weight class, and while there have been some who have remained “in the mix” for that entire period, none has had as much consistent non-title success as Faber.
At some point, everyone suffers a loss that drops them down the rankings, and makes their climb back into title contention a longer journey, but that hasn’t happened with Faber. When there isn’t a title on the line, “The California Kid” just keeps winning.
As much as coming up short in his quest to claim championship gold time and again makes him an easy target for ridicule, the only men to beat him over the last three years are pound-for-pound stalwarts and UFC champions who have a combined record of 61-3 for their careers — and Faber holds one of those victories.
It’s hard to really knock a guy for coming up short against that kind of competition.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be Faber and have to deal with the sting of championship defeats than be like so many others than never make it there in the first place.