SACRAMENTO, Calif. – After winning for the fourth time in 2013, Urijah Faber made it clear he's not afraid to fight outside of his weight class.
"I'll fight Godzilla, I'll fight King Kong," Faber said at Saturday night's UFC on FOX 9 post-fight news conference. "I don't care."
Unless either movie monster can cut down to 135 pounds, those fights aren't likely to happen any time soon. But after a spectacular performance against Michael McDonald in front of a near-sellout crowd at his hometown Sleep Train Arena, it's hard to blame "The California Kid" for his confidence.
Less than a year and a half after the fighter who popularized the lighter weight classes was all but written off as a serious contender, Faber, the former WEC featherweight champion, has forced his way back into the picture.
"I'm not the kind of guy who dwells on things and feels bad for myself," Faber (30-6) said. "I'm the type of guy who finds something positive, and a win or a loss isn't necessarily the defining thing for me."
That's a good thing for Faber, because he's had his share of losses in title fights.
Five straight, in fact, dating back to his WEC title loss to Mike Brown in 2008. Since then, he dropped a rematch to Brown via decision; a decision to Jose Aldo, who had defeated Brown for the WEC belt; a 2011 decision to UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, whom Faber had defeated in a 2007 WEC title fight; and an interim UFC title fight to Barao last year, after Cruz had to pull out of what was supposed to be a Faber trilogy fight with a knee injury.
"I lost to Jose Aldo, went to a decision," said Faber. "I lost to Barao, broke my rib two minutes in. I lost to Cruz, which was a fight I thought I won. I lost to Mike Brown with a broken hand. What do you guys want from me?"
Well, five losses are five losses, regardless of the reasons. There's no doubt why Faber got as many title opportunities as he did: Because of the yeoman work he did as the first under-155 lb. breakthrough star in the WEC, Faber was the only lighter-weight fighter who could fill arenas and headline major events for years.
But after the loss to Barao at UFC 149, Faber clearly needed to resort to extraordinary measures to get back to the top of the heap. And that's exactly what he's done. The 34-year-old turned back the clock and looked the like the tenacious, inventive fighter of his WEC peak in putting together a rare 4-0 year in 2013.
Faber was at his finest against McDonald, the 22-year-old from nearby Modesto who used Faber as his inspiration to get into the sport. The precocious McDonald took a 15-2 record into the fight and had a penchant for explosive fighting. But Faber shut McDonald down, dropped him with a huge right hand early in the second round and swarmed like a shark smelling blood. McDonald tapped to a choke.
"After the Barao fight, I just looked back at the fact that I love what I do," Faber said. "I was kind of rope-a-doping [McDonald] in the media ... I always kind of lulled him like he's the best as a striker. But I put people down, dude. Anyone who says they're the best as a striker, if they want to step up, I'm here."
The win improved Faber to 9-0 in non-title fights since losing the WEC belt to Brown. While that might not win over his harshest critics, it's enough to sway the man with the power to give him the title shot he desires.
UFC president Dana White strongly hinted Faber would be next in line to face the winner of the Feb. 1 unification match between Cruz and Barao in Newark.
"A lot of people have said [the UFC] is just looking for excuses to give Urijah Faber a title shot," UFC president Dana White said. "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's night wasn't without a bittersweet tinge. The UFC on FOX 9 main card was almost a tribute to Sacramento's Team Alpha Male, undeniably the sport's hottest camp in 2013. Three of the camp's fighters on the main card, Faber, Joseph Benavidez, and Chad Mendes, took a combined win streak of 10 fights into the night.
That number was 12 after Mendes beat Nik Lentz and Faber finished McDonald. But Joseph Benavidez was on the wrong end of a brutal knockout at the hands of flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson in the evening's main event, putting a damper on what had been a festive night.
"I don't think I can dwell on things," Faber said. "Joseph has a bright future and he knows that and I still feel great about my victory. It's the flow of the game, you know? This is a sport where people get hurt, people get caught, and that's what happened to him tonight against a great champion. He'll be back and I'm going to enjoy my night."
And if there's still anyone out there who doesn't think Faber deserves a title shot? "The California Kid" isn't going to sweat it.
"I've been 11 years in this sport at the top of the heap," Faber said. "These guys know my positive attitude can't be stopped."
Follow Dave Doyle on Twitter: @DaveDoyleMMA
- Sports & Recreation
- Martial Arts
- Urijah Faber