Faber (34-10) vs. Ricky Simon
Odds: Simon (-300), Faber (+250)
Faber's back, which has always felt inevitable; MMA retirements never last, and even after his 2016 retirement, he made it clear that he never left the UFC's drug testing pool just in case an interesting opportunity presented itself. The surprising part is that there doesn't seem to be much reason for this comeback fight other than the UFC returning to his home base of Sacramento. A lot has been made of Faber's repeated title shots throughout his UFC and his inability to win any of those fights; up until his 2015 loss to Frankie Edgar, Faber was undefeated in non-title fights, and that combined with his starpower from his glory days in WEC always made him the UFC's obvious pick to be next in line for a shot at the gold. And in today's times of increasingly more cynical matchmaking, it wouldn't be hard to see the UFC going out of their way to give Faber another undeserved title shot, particularly when protégé-turned-rival T.J. Dillashaw held the belt. But instead, the 40-year-old "California Kid" returns for a surprisingly normal matchup that should help calibrate exactly where he is at this point, as he takes on a rising prospect in Simon.
If nothing else, Simon's all-offense approach should make this an entertaining affair. The Pacific Northwest native fights like an absolute madman, pressing whatever offensive advantage presents itself at every opportunity and keeping up a hearty pace over 15 minutes. Simon's debut didn't exactly portend well, even if he got the win in about the strangest way possible; Merab Dvalishvili managed to outpace him in a breakneck contest and seemingly survived a fight-ending guillotine choke, only to be ruled unconscious at the final horn of the bout. But save for Dvalishvili, Simon's been able to wear out every opponent in his path, and a February win over Rani Yahya was a huge proof of concept that Simon could make his style work against a dangerous veteran who could match him in the grappling department. He'll look to repeat the trick here against Faber in a huge opportunity to make a name for himself.
This bout is an absolute question mark, since so much of it depends on where Faber is both physically and mentally. Faber's kept active on the grappling circuit, and if he comes into this fight somewhere close to his 2016 form, it's certainly a winnable bout; Simon's aggression comes at the expense of his defense, and it's easy to see him getting overzealous in a scramble and diving into a fight-ending submission from Faber. But when Faber retired after his win over Brad Pickett, it seemed like he was getting out at exactly the right time; his physical gifts had only slightly diminished rather than falling off a cliff, and in his penultimate fight against Jimmie Rivera, Faber seemed willing to check out and conserve himself as soon as things started going against him. If Faber's held steady physically and is in a spot where he wants to compete through adversity rather than make a business decision and take his foot off the gas pedal, this is an even bout, but that seems like asking too much to have gone well for someone in their forties. The pick is for Simon to keep the pressure on for 15 minutes and win a clear decision.
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