The Ultimate Fighting Championship on May 7 announced that bantamweight titleholder Dominick Cruz had torn a knee ligament while training, necessitating his removal from a rubber match with longtime rival Urijah Faber. It was a pill neither man wanted to swallow.
Beyond Cruz and his inner circle, perhaps no one was more disappointed with the cancellation than Faber, who had designs on avenging his July 2011 defeat to “The Dominator.” Instead, Cruz faced reconstructive surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation process. Faber was met with uncertainty, his mantle still noticeably void of the sport’s biggest prize: a UFC championship.
A little less than two weeks later, the promotion pitted “The California Kid” against once-beaten Nova Uniao standout Renan “Barao” Pegado for the interim UFC bantamweight crown. The two will meet in the UFC 149 headliner on Saturday at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The situation was less than ideal for Faber, but, with Cruz stuck on the sidelines, he had no choice but to move forward.
Shop Sherdog: Urijah Faber UFC 149 Walkout T-Shirt
“I was really bummed,” he said during a media call for UFC 149. “It was something we had a lot of buildup for, but, when everything is said and done, there’s still a great matchup. The fight with ‘Barao’ has the potential to be very exciting. It’s two guys that are finishers and try to fight. I feel like Dominick tries to win more than he tries to beat someone up. It’s going to be knockdown, drag-out, and that’s what I like.”
Faber’s final chapter with Cruz will have to wait.
“I’m not waiting around for Dominick in any way shape or form,” he said. “Everyone wants to see the fight between Dominick and I, but I’m not going to put my life on hold because of Dominick’s injuries. Everything is about being the best. I’m not thinking about Dominick Cruz right now.”
In Pegado, Faber draws a formidable foe that has not lost in more than seven years. The 25-year-old Brazilian last appeared at UFC 143 in February, when he cruised to a unanimous decision over Scott Jorgensen at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. He will enter the cage unbeaten in his last 29 appearances.
“Renan is very well-rounded; 99 percent of the guys that get these title shots are very well-rounded, but he’s human just like anyone else,” Faber said. “That long streak is going to come to an end, and I’m the one to do it. All the long streaks come to an end.”
A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and potent striker, “Barao” has been nothing short of a revelation since he planted his flag in Zuffa soil, first with World Extreme Cagefighting and then with the UFC. In five outings with the company, he has scored submission wins over Anthony Leone, Chris Cariaso and American Top Team’s Brad Pickett, along with decisions against Cole Escovedo and Jorgensen. Faber views him as a different kind of threat than Cruz.
“He’s got good hands, but he’s slower and less tricky than Dominick,” he said. “I’ve got to watch out for his high knees and leg kicks. He’s got great wrestling for a Brazilian, but I’m a better wrestler. He’s fast, but I’m faster. He’s strong, but I’m stronger. I’m aware of the weapons he has, but I’m ready to outclass him in every way.”
Some point to the fact that “Barao” trains alongside UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo -- a man who throttled Faber with leg kicks during their WEC days -- as a potential advantage for the once-beaten Brazilian. Faber shrugs at the idea.
“Is he going to bring Aldo there to help fight me? If so, then yes [it will be an advantage], but we’re all individuals,” he said. “Renan, even though he has similarities ... they’re different fighters. They’re different sizes and different skill sets. I don’t think Aldo’s input will help that much. He’ll probably tell him to kick me in the leg, but Renan was going to do that anyways.”
One of the sport’s most commercially successful fighters, Faber has lost his last four title bouts dating back to his November 2008 defeat to Mike Thomas Brown. However, the 33-year-old sounds very much like a man comfortable in his own skin with nothing left to prove entering his five-round showdown with “Barao.”
“I always have a sense of urgency when I fight,” Faber said. “I don’t feel pressure because I always deliver. I’ve never had a boring fight. I really feel this fight has potential to be ‘Fight of the Year.’ I feel I’m at the peak of my abilities, and I’m getting better and better over the years and getting comfortable. There’s no doubt in my mind this is going to be an exciting fight. I want this more than anything.
Experience has taught Faber to focus on the fight, not all the external pressures that come along with it.
“It’s not about how many interviews I’ve done,” he said. “I just approach a fight like I would defending myself on the street. I’ve got no excuses ever. I don’t care who the opponent is. I’m going to go out there and win.”