SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- In all likelihood, Urijah Faber won’t be a serious candidate for "Fighter of the year," but he’s done something incredible these past 12 months -- and I’m not solely referring to his destruction of Michael McDonald on Saturday -- although that was nothing short of awesome.
What’s really amazing about Faber right now is that within about a year, he not only built himself back into the undisputed No. 1 contender at 135 pounds -- he’s done it in such a way that we’re actually excited about it.
When 2013 began, Faber was coming off a previous year's campaign that saw him fight only once: a lopsided, at-times tedious five-round loss to Renan Barao for the UFC interim belt. It was his fifth loss in a title fight in a span of less than four years.
The very thought of Faber (30-6) in another title fight made some mixed martial arts fans sick to the stomach. It had become clear he couldn’t win the big one anymore, having lost five consecutive title fights across two weight classes.
The craziness of this resurgence story starts right there, with the fact Faber didn’t care. After that many heartbreaking defeats, nobody would have blamed him had he come out flat his next couple fights -- in fact, we probably expected him to.
Instead, here we are in December 2013 and the idea of Faber fighting for a title doesn’t even feel all that repetitive. It doesn’t feel like an undeserved gift based on his popularity. The man has never looked better.
“A lot of people have said [the UFC] is just looking for excuses to give Urijah Faber a title shot,” said UFC president Dana White. “You can’t deny it now. You can hate. You can dislike. You can do whatever you want, but you can’t deny him.
“Faber is in like this Vitor [Belfort] zone. The older he gets, the better he gets.”
White didn’t officially call Faber the No. 1 contender on Saturday, but it’s hard to see a scenario unfold in which he wouldn’t be.
Dominick Cruz will return from injury for the first time since October 2011 against Barao at UFC 169 in February. Faber is a marketable next opponent for the winner, regardless of who it is.
He has no hesitation in raising his hand for that opportunity, either. It’s not as if he’s felt out of his league in these title losses. A cracked rib hindered him against Barao. He broke his hand against Mike Brown. He still thinks he did enough to beat Cruz.
“Dana has paid me a great compliment by saying I’m the type of guy who believes I can beat anyone,” Faber said. “I’m ready to fight anyone, any time. I’ll fight Godzilla, King Kong, I don’t care. I’m a little bit delusional about it, even.
“My losses have been to Jose Aldo, Barao, I lost to Cruz when I thought I beat him, Mike Brown with a broken hand -- what do you guys want from me?”
One sort-of-interesting part about this whole thing is that Faber doesn’t seem to see it. In his mind, he was just going out and winning fights. He expected to win all four of his fights this year, and in the manner in which he did it.
He dismisses talk about fans not wanting to see him fight for a title or his inability to win the big one as merely “people looking for stuff to talk about.” And in some respect he’s probably right: We do love our storylines in this sport.
Still, Faber’s insanely fast return to legitimate title contender was one of the most impressive things to happen in the UFC this year. For all the hate he’s taken along the way, it needed to be pointed out.