Best of the best?

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

LAS VEGAS – He has the endurance of a triathlete, the strength of a power lifter and the quickness of a tennis player. He has held one championship belt or another in each of his last 16 fights.

But Urijah Faber, who retained his WEC featherweight title Sunday at the Hard Rock Hotel by submitting Chance Farrar to a rear naked choke, isn't nearly the fighter now that he will become. And that's from no less of an authority than Faber himself.

"Every time I finish a fight, it's a relieved feeling for me because there is so much I need to work on still," Faber said. "I'm just starting to get my boxing down. I've been working a lot on my hands. My Muay Thai is starting to feel real natural to me.

"I'm still improving on my wrestling. I'm improving on my jiu-jitsu. I'm bringing in an NCAA national champ (in wrestling). I coached and was a teammate with Derek Moore, who won the NCAAs.

"I realize that high-level wrestlers are going to be getting into this, high-level jiu-jitsu guys are going to be getting into this and strikers are learning the game. So I'm really actively improving on all aspects of my game."

It's hard to imagine that being true, given that Faber already is among the world's elite mixed martial artists. There are only a handful of fighters in any weight class who are, pound for pound, as good, and if they are better, it's not by a lot.

WEC matchmaker Scott Adams may be biased, but he believes Faber is the best fighter in the world in any weight class. That might be a stretch, but not by a lot, given Faber's accomplishments.

He went to 19-1 with his victory Sunday, with his only loss coming to Tyson Griffin, a much bigger man who is fighting at lightweight in the UFC. And in that fight, Faber made what he said was "a real stupid mistake" and rammed his head into the cage in the first 10 seconds of the bout, opening a large cut on the top of his head.

But he has been largely unchallenged since losing to Griffin on Sept. 10, 2005. Because there are so many ways to win an MMA fight, few men go on lengthy winning streaks.

Faber, though, has so many weapons that he's going to be difficult for any featherweight to handle.

His friend, Dustin Akbari, is a world-class submission grappler who outweighs him by nearly 40 pounds.

Akbari's instructor, Cassio Werneck, is a world champion in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at 185 pounds and normally walks around at 210.

"Urijah feels stronger to me than him," Akbari said. "He's got amazing cardio. He doesn't get tired, and he is so darn strong. He's freakishly strong. He's got everything."

Farrar learned how good Faber is Sunday in a fight he felt he was controlling throughout. He said he felt he hurt Faber with a liver kick, and, indeed, after the fight Faber was complaining of a pain in his side.

Farrar had Faber in several precarious positions and was submitted almost out of nowhere, which came as a complete shock to him.

"To go in there and get beat in that fashion, when I felt I was never in danger, is tough," a downcast Farrar said. "He got on top of me and I was like, 'Hey, I'm just going to get up,' and to my surprise, he sunk that choke in quick. It was impressive and I'm still kind of in shock at how he did it."

Faber, who was raised holistic, said he can't recall ever not being in shape. He has wrestled since he was young and was a star at UC Davis. Since he has gotten into MMA, he has become a superb grappler and won a fight in the world-famous Abu Dhabi submission tournament in 2004.

He has earned a purple belt in jiu-jitsu and begun training with boxers, including lightweight contender Almazbek Raiymkulov. Adams said he believes Faber is in his prime and concedes it would be difficult for him to get much better.

But he said it's the passion Faber has for the sport that has made him one of the game's elite. And because Faber has fought most of his career out of the spotlight, he largely is unknown.

With the owners of the UFC now owning the WEC and putting a lot of time and money into marketing Faber, he's going to become familiar to a lot of people before long.

"If you're a promoter, this is the kind of kid you want to promote because he's well-spoken, he's a good-looking kid, he's a nice kid from a nice family and he can fight like no one else," Adams said. "He loves the competition, and he's doing it because he loves it. He can't see himself doing anything else."

Except, Adams might have added, getting better. That's something Faber not only wants to do but also said he will do.

"I'm always taking bits and pieces from everyone," Faber said. "A hundred percent is what I've had from the very beginning. I've found a way, and I will find a way to win. But there is a lot of improvements in the different disciplines, for sure.

"My grappling is world-class. I've competed with and fought against multiple-time world champions in jiu-jitsu. I've competed with national champions in wrestling. I did Abu Dhabi back when I wasn't very good at jiu-jitsu, and I beat black belts.

"Now, I'm focusing on my standup. I box with straight boxers, and I'm doing great with them. I've been doing Muay Thai for the last year and a half and it's coming along for me, but I'm just going to keep pushing forward and getting better."

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