Urijah Faber is underrated (seriously, he is)

November, 21, 2011
11/21/11
8:13
AM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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Urijah FaberRod Mar/ESPN.comBy running rampant over Brian Bowles, Urijah Faber proved he's still a title contender.
Here’s a currently unpopular theory: Urijah Faber is underrated.

Seems like most feel the opposite is true. Despite a phenomenal win over Brian Bowles at UFC 139 on Saturday, news of Faber receiving another title shot -- his third in three years -- has been met with resistance.

Not only do the majority of fans seem to think he’s got nothing to offer in a third fight against bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, long gone is his name from any pound-for-pound rankings. His glory days, some would say, are behind him.

Feel free to subscribe to this way of thinking, but at least take a minute beforehand to make sure you’re not overlooking a few details.

1. Look at his losses: The first came via TKO against Tyson Griffin in 2005. Both were in the early stages of their careers at the time. As is the case with many of Faber’s early wins, not much stock you can put into that fight today.

In 2008, Mike Brown knocked him out as Faber was throwing a flashy, spinning elbow. It was a legitimate loss, but one in which he was caught -- not soundly beaten. A rematch in 2009 also went to Brown, but it’s hard to put that fight into context, as Faber broke both hands early on.

His fourth loss was to Jose Aldo in 2010 and the worst of them all. He was outmatched in that fight -- plain and simple.

Lastly, of course, is the closely contested decision loss to Cruz.

Four of the five occurred at 145 pounds, above Faber’s natural fighting weight and only one, the loss to Aldo, saw Faber visibly outfought throughout. All were title fights.
[+] EnlargeUrijah Faber, Brian Bowles
Rod Mar for ESPN.comThe more time Urijah Faber spends at 135, the more he'll have a leg up on the competition.
2. Look at his wins: They’ve been dominant. In this sport, not all wins are equal and Faber’s victories tend to stand out.

Of his 26 wins, only four have been by decision. He finished Bowles, a former champion looking for another title shot of his own, in under seven minutes. He’s the only WEC or UFC fighter to ever finish Takeya Mizugaki, and he did it in a round.

Just as it’s important to remember his losses came at 145 pounds, his wins did, too. He’s fought the better part of his career up a weight class. That fact alone should make him a pound-for-pound candidate.

3. It’s very possible he’s entering the prime of his career: Although it feels like he’s been around forever, he’s just 32 and hasn’t absorbed a concerning amount of damage in his career.

One industry insider, who has watched Faber for years firsthand, called the win over Bowles “the best performance of his career.”

He’s becoming more accustomed to cutting to 135 pounds. Even though it’s his ideal fighting weight, it’s still a process he needed to learn. He’s adapting to the differences in both himself and the division, which makes him a better bantamweight today than he was one year ago when he dropped from featherweight.

“I feel I can box with boxers, kickbox with kickboxers and submit black belts,” Faber said. “I’ve never had the opportunity to fight at 135 when I got in this sport. I’ve really found a home here.”

4. He’s hungry: Despite all the positive things we just pointed out about Faber, he’s at a crossroads here.
[+] EnlargeFaber/Cruz
Marc Sanchez/Icon SMILook out, Cruz: Faber has built momentum going into their rubber match.

The thing about being No. 2 is it ain’t No. 1. If Faber loses to Cruz, that’s how he’ll be remembered in the UFC. All the years he spent as WEC featherweight champion will be overshadowed, in history, by his inability to dethrone Cruz.

That’s unfair, but it’s life and Faber knows it. You could see that in him not only in the week leading up to the UFC 139, but in the fight itself. Not only will he train harder for this fight then ever before, he’ll fight the way he has to -- meaning, he’ll force himself to fight for a decision if that’s the only way he’s going to win.

“This is for the UFC title but it’s a personal vendetta I have,” said Faber, on a third Cruz fight. “We’re 1-1. Now the trilogy to find out who’s the man for the rest of our lives. That’s important to me.”

Considering all that, are you still disinterested in another title fight featuring Urijah Faber? Or are we all sleeping on one of the better fighters, period, in the world right now?

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