Urijah Faber and the World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight title were so synonymous that it was hard to imagine one without the other.
But imagination time ended Wednesday with the reality of a Mike Brown right hand that caught Faber wide open as he tried to throw an elbow.
This led to the end of Faber's 2½-year title reign and 13-fight win streak as Brown won the title via first round TKO at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, Fla.
Faber was already champion when WEC was purchased by Zuffa and got its national television deal on Versus. He was the star on the company's first television special, and before his last fight, a five-round decision win over Jens Pulver in the biggest featherweight MMA match in North American history, had reeled off 12 straight first or second-round stoppages.
Brown, 20-4, who trains with the American Top Team camp in nearby Coconut Creek, was known for power and was considered a threat simply because he may have been strong enough to take Faber down and shut down his submission game.
But the fight went entirely different. Faber, who went in considered the No. 1 featherweight in the world and ranked No. 5 in the Yahoo! Sports pound-for-pound rankings, seemed quicker standing. But he lost his balance once and went down, and was also rocked once early in the fight with a hard punch.
As Faber tried to respond with an elbow, Brown caught him leaning in with a perfectly timed right, putting Faber down hard. Smelling blood, Brown connected with 28 straight punches on the ground and ref Troy Waugh waved it off at 2:23 of the first round, stunning the crowd of about 5,000 fans.
"I made a small mistake and he capitalized on it," said Faber, now 21-2. "I have no excuses. Congratulations to Mike Brown. I love life. I'm a happy person and I'll be back to get the belt."
"I train with the best team in the world, American Top Team," said Brown. "We have so many great fighters. I knew if I fought the way I train, that I can beat anybody."
Brown may have broken a rib, courtesy of a Faber knee that caused him to wince, and he was taken to a local hospital after the fight.
The stoppage was another example of the reality of a sport where, because there are so many different ways to lose, it's almost impossible when fighting top competition to win them all. The match in many ways was reminiscent of Matt Serra's Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight title win over a heavily-favored Georges St. Pierre in 2007.
This puts Faber in a similar situation as St. Pierre faced this year, of looking to prove the punch that put him down was a one-time fluke.
"Hopefully I'll get a shot," he said.
Faber won the championship on March 17, 2006, when he stopped Cole Escovedo at a time when almost nobody had heard of him, the WEC, or for that matter, the featherweight dicison.
He also held the bantamweight championships of both Gladiator Challenge and King of the Cage, two other smaller companies that ran regularly in California on Native American reservations during a time the sport wasn't even legal within the state itself. He vacated both when WEC parent company Zuffa signed him to an exclusive deal to be the star of the promotion in early 2007.
Faber's title was the only one that changed hands, but he was not the only star, or even champion, who lost on a night of upsets.
A listless Paulo Filho followed not making weight Tuesday for his WEC middleweight title defense against Chael Sonnen, with fighting in slow motion in losing a three-round decision in a grudge match.
Due to his failure to make the 185-pound limit, he saved his championship, although the title wasn't going to have long-term value since WEC is dropping the middleweight and light heavyweight division at the end of the year, to become an exclusively lighter-weight promotion.
Both fighters wound up furious by fight time, but it hardly resulted in an exciting fight.
Filho seemed content to do little, recognizing he was too slow to get anywhere with Sonnen, couldn't stand with him, and couldn't take him down. Filho largely stayed on his back in the first round. By the second round, the crowd, which hated Filho for not making weight, was booing both fighters as Sonnen was content with throw weak jabs and try simply to win a point game. The booing got heavier in the third round when the pattern continued.
Sonnen, 23-9-1, was mad, feeling he was no longer fighting for the championship because Filho didn't have the discipline to make weight.
Filho originally weighed in at a whopping 192.5 pounds in a 185-pound weight class, and after being given two more hours, he had only cut to 189.5.
Filho was mad, because in order to get Sonnen to agree to fight him, he had to forfeit 25 percent of his purse to Sonnen. He had vowed to take that 25 percent out on Sonnen, but seemed to fight most of the fight almost in a stupor. By the third round, he was involved in a conversation in Portuguese while fighting, but it didn't appear that he was actually talking with anyone.
Filho, 16-1, has morphed into almost the opposite of the fighter who many thought was No. 1 in the world in his weight after he dominated competition in Japan until the folding of the PRIDE organization.
But since his transition to the WEC, Filho morphed from powerhouse with great submission ability to a sluggish fighter constantly battling problems with conditioning. Filho armbarred Sonnen late in the second round of his title defense in his previous fight on December 12, 2007, in Las Vegas, after Sonnen had dominated the fight.
The rematch months ago was postponed because Filho checked himself into a drug rehabilitation clinic in Brazil, and the postponed a second time when Hurricane Ike canceled the original Sept. 10 date for the show. It became emotional as Sonnen had promised his father, on his deathbed, that he was going to win the championship, and suddenly, through no fault of his own, the title was no longer at stake.
The performance by Filho was so bad, that even though he came into the fight ranked near the top in most middleweight rankings, one has to question whether UFC would even sign him for the division as WEC shuts it down.
Pulver, coming off the loss to Faber, was also the victim of a quick knockdown at the hands of Leonard Garcia, who connected with a flurry against the cage that crumpled the first UFC lightweight champion, with the fight stopped at 1:12 of round one. Garcia, 16-3, looks to be next in line for a featherweight title shot.
Jake Rosholt, the three-time national champion wrestler from Oklahoma State, showed both his major strengths and weaknesses in stopping previously unbeaten Nissen Osterneck at 3:48 of the second round.
Rosholt's weaknesses in standing defense were apparent, as Osterneck connected with solid punches and a hard kick to the face in round two, that nearly put Rosholt away.
However, Rosholt's ability to take an opponent down, and his great top game, even against someone with strong submission ability, led him to duck an attempted spinning backfist, tackle Osterneck to the ground, and pound him out at 3:48 of the second round.
It was clear Rosholt is a threat to anyone with his wrestling, but that his stand-up, after just 18 months of training, is not UFC caliber.
Still, with the win, he's headed into the deeper UFC waters.
- Urijah Faber
- Mike Brown
- Chael Sonnen
- Paulo Filho