Urijah Faber's return to the Octagon was an overwhelming success this past Saturday night.
The 40-year-old had his hometown fans in Sacramento, California, in a frenzy as he stopped the up-and-coming Ricky Simon in 46 seconds. But Faber really had fans buzzing during his postfight interview when he called out two-division champion Henry Cejudo for a bantamweight title bout.
So, despite his UFC Hall of Fame credentials, does a guy who has competed once since retiring in 2016 deserve a shot at the crown?
This was one topic discussed in this week's Ariel & The Bad Guy episode, streamed exclusively on ESPN+.
Ariel Helwani: I don't want to be a stickler right off the bat, but ... Henry Cejudo called him out first. Let's just be clear about this. Henry Cejudo actually said that he wanted to fight Urijah Faber when he beat Marlon Moraes back in June in Chicago. So, Faber was just replying to said call out.
Now, I understand this is a very polarizing topic right now because you have Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan at 135 and you also have Joseph Benavidez, a former teammate of Urijah Faber's, at 125 all waiting for Henry Cejudo to get back, get healthy and fight again. But, let's be honest, of those three guys and then you include Faber into that mix, the biggest fight possible is Urijah Faber. I don't think at the end of the day that they're going to give it to Urijah Faber next, but honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if the one after that is Urijah Faber, which basically means Faber fights one more time. If he wins that fight, by the time Cejudo is ready to return around January or so, I wouldn't be surprised if they give it to Faber again because of his name, because of his drawing power and because of the fact that we're living in an age right now where the UFC is going to cater to the biggest fight possible.
So, Faber had an amazing performance. He certainly raised a lot of eyebrows, including myself. I didn't expect this out of him. I didn't expect a 46-second TKO against your teammate Ricky Simon, who's a very tough guy who we have a lot of respect for. I think he's one (win) away from being in that conversation.
Chael Sonnen: And Ariel, don't forget, when you talk about the biggest fight possible, what that means is that's what the fans want the most. That's what most people are going to stop what they're doing and tune in for, come to the arena, watch on ESPN. That's very relevant because Dana White has two masters to serve. The first is the fans. He has an obligation to give the people what they want. But the other one is, he set up a ranking system in 2012 for a reason. He wants to establish and make sure the correct guy from a competitive standpoint gets his opportunity. And when you talk about the four guys, Joseph Benavidez, it's worth note, has fought Henry Cejudo -- and beat him. So when we talk about the triple-champ thing, it's very relevant I think to both guys that Cejudo get that one back in his own competitive mind, but also that Joseph Benavidez, who has done everything right for over a decade, gets to fall in line with those correct rankings.
I also would like to add one thing: When you do talk about the argument to Urijah Faber, the pushback on that, Ariel, is very obvious, which is he hasn't fought. He's been out. He only beat one guy in the last year, but I do want to remind you how this sport works. If you beat a guy in this industry, you take whatever he's got. To remind you, if a guy is a world champion and you come in and beat him, you take that championship. That's not true in football. If the Patriots, who are the defending Super Bowl champion, in their next game the Super Bowl is not on the line. In this sport, it is. And with that in mind, that means Urijah just took a three-fight win streak from Ricky Simon and an argument could definitely be made.
Helwani: Oh, an argument can definitely be made, there's no doubt about that. And like I said, he's so popular, he's a draw. It's a nice story. Plus, they trained together when Cejudo left the Olympics and won that gold medal, so there's great footage out there of them training together when he was considering jumping into MMA. But can we take a step back just very briefly here, because we've been talking about Cejudo all year. I mean, if the year ended today he probably would be the male fighter of the year. I can't get enough of this guy, Chael. I really can't. I mean his stuff is so great. People get so riled up. He posted this video on Monday, he sent me a video -- he's in Mexico on vacation where he told Faber to jump on his skateboard and take it all the way to Yugoslavia. Like, why Yugoslavia? It makes no sense, but it actually cracks me up. I love everything about it.
He's doing such a good job of creating this character for himself and by the way, let's also give him props because it appears as though he may have just saved the flyweights. The unthinkable may have happened. We've talked about this topic ad nauseam, but Dana White said to TMZ earlier this week that it makes sense for Cejudo to fight Benavidez next for the 125-pound title. He actually did it, and guess what? I don't know if you've been watching the waiver wire, but they've actually signed three flyweights in the past couple of weeks. I think Cejudo did it. We need to give him props for that.
Sonnen: Yeah, I think something very special happened here and it's relevant what you just brought up about the TMZ article because as we're sitting here debating whether Urijah is going to fight Cejudo, and it sounds like neither one of us is sure -- we kind of think it's not going to happen, but we understood that it can happen -- it is important to know that Dana did go out and now says that it is going to be Benavidez. Look, that makes a lot of sense, but I do want to remind you how this works. Dana will come out and throw an idea to the public like a bone and see who bites on to it and see who likes it. I'm not quite ready to say that the Urijah Faber talk is done. I also love the point that you made that when Urijah came out, he was responding to Cejudo. Cejudo, who is the champion, called a guy out. Look, champions get called out, they don't do the calling out and when a champion points his finger at one guy's chest, you generally make that fight.
Helwani: Yeah, I wouldn't be surprised, Chael, if they do Sterling vs. Petr Yan. They're talking maybe Russia, maybe MSG, which I think is the perfect spot for it because Sterling is from New York and there's a big Russian population there, and then the winner of that fight waits until the winner of Cejudo-Benavidez. I'm not sure how Faber fits into all this, but again, crazier things have happened.