SAN DIEGO – Sunday night's rematch with Jens Pulver could have been considered the MMA equivalent of a "trap game" for Urijah Faber.
The former WEC featherweight champion had already beaten Pulver last summer, taking all five rounds in a convincing unanimous decision.
Faber was also coming off the upset loss of his title to Mike Brown in November, which ended his 13-fight winning streak.
There seemed to be lots of downside and little upside to another fight with the fading Pulver. So Faber did the only thing he could do in such a situation: Score a quick and convincing victory.
Faber, the star of the show for the estimated 8,000 in attendance at the San Diego Sports Arena, took out Pulver at 1:45 of the first round with a guillotine choke.
"I'm back," Faber said. "After the way my last couple fights went, I wanted to go in against a guy like Jens and get the finish. I want to get my belt back."
Faber (22-2) didn't take long to find an opening, as he hit Pulver with a wicked left hand to the liver that sent him searching for an escape. Faber dropped Pulver with a knee along the fence and quickly maneuvered him into position for the submission.
"I'll tell you what, after getting hit like that, I want to apologize to anyone I've ever hit with a body shot in the past 11 years," Pulver joked after the fight.
The match was a stark contrast to the first battle, the memorable June 1 Sacramento slugfest in which Faber and Pulver stood and banged for much of the fight's 25-minute duration.
"Last time, I got caught up in the moment," Faber said. "I knew I was going against this legendary banger and we had a big spotlight, and I wanted to put on a show. This time I wanted to get back to business."
The win sets up Faber's chance to regain the belt. Brown defends the title against Leonard Garcia on March 1 in Corpus Christi, Texas, and Faber is an interested observer.
"I think Mike's the better fighter, but Leonard isn't going to be an easy match," said Faber, who earned a $7,500 bonus for the night's best submission. "I don't care who wins. I wish they could both lose."
While Faber has his sights set on the future, Pulver (22-11-1) stole the show with an emotional postfight scene.
The first UFC lightweight champion has earned his spot as one of the legends of the business. He inspired a generation of smaller fighters as an undersized 155-pounder who simply fought harder than anyone else to earn his keep.
But a lifetime of scrapping seems to be catching up to the 34-year-old Pulver. Sunday's loss was his fifth in his past six fights. He's 1-3 since moving to the WEC and dropping to featherweight, a move that was designed to revive his career.
Additionally, the loss capped a period in which Pulver both witnessed the birth of a son and lost his best friend in the business, former college wrestling teammate Justin Eilers, who was killed on Christmas Day.
"Three losses in a row," Pulver said in his postfight interview. "I'm starting to wonder [if he's finished] that myself. Right now I'm feeling like a really old 34-year-old man."
The Sports Arena crowd wasn't having any of that talk, though. They sent him out on a high note with a sustained standing ovation.
"That was the moment, right there," he said. "When the fans responded like that, that's when I decided I'm going to carry on. You guys don't know how tough it's been. I don't want to sound like I'm making excuses, but, the things I've been through … I'm not the type who goes to funerals and things like that."
Strange ending to title match
The show's final match, between lightweight champion Jamie Varner and challenger Donald Cerrone, came to an unusual conclusion.
Cerrone charged Varner early in the fifth round as Varner was attempting to get off the mat. Varner dropped back to his knees, but Cerrone followed through and hit the downed Varner in the temple with a knee.
The match was stopped when Varner couldn't continue after a rest period.
Since Cerrone began his attempted knee when Varner's knees were off the mat, it was ruled an unintentional foul, which meant the match went to the judges' scorecards. Had the foul been ruled intentional, Cerrone would have been disqualified. Varner won on two scorecards, 49-46 and 49-46; Cerrone took a 48-47 score.
The knee infraction capped a brutal match in which Varner ended up with a broken foot. Cerrone, for his part, fought much of the match unable to see out of his left eye after taking a first-round ground pounding.
Varner was booed by the crowd after the fight, something he didn't appreciate. "I didn't ask to get kneed in the head on the ground," he said. "We went all out for five rounds and gave these guys everything. I was out, when I woke up I actually thought I lost the fight, I didn't know what happened. I broke my foot and took a knee and they booed me. Whatever."
Both fighters got $7,500 Fight of the Night bonuses. Varner indicated that he still considers Cerrone his No. 1 contender and wants a rematch.