When he held the WEC featherweight title from March 2006 until November 2009, Urijah Faber was consistently regarded among the best pound-for-pound fighters.
He was so dominant during that period that no one dared to question his status as a top-four mixed martial artist.
Faber rolled through the opposition with an unorthodox fighting style that made him a must-see attraction. Toss in that irresistible smile and bubbly personality and Faber easily became WEC’s highest-profile fighter.
But good things usually come to an end. Faber, a natural bantamweight, finally met a foe who was both strong and patient enough to counter his unorthodox style.
Mike Thomas Brown caught Faber in a vulnerable position and landed a right hand at WEC 36. The punch would daze Faber and lead to his demise.
Faber’s 145-pound title reign would end at 2:23 of Round 1 on Nov. 2, 2008. From that moment, Faber has had several chances to regain a title – and each time he’s failed.
Now there is talk of him being an underrated fighter. Such a point of view can’t be further from the truth.
Faber remains a highly regarded fighter; he’s just not among the elite anymore.
Since losing his belt, Faber dropped two more featherweight championship bouts: Brown beat him by unanimous decision in a rematch and current titleholder Jose Aldo repeatedly connected with kicks that sent Faber to the canvas several times and left a nasty bruise on his right thigh.
The loss to Aldo was so lopsided that Faber concluded it was time to move down to 135 pounds.
He needed just two wins in his new weight class to garner a title shot. That good fortune just doesn’t happen to underrated fighters.
Faber was competitive against UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz during their title fight in July, but again he came up short -– dropping a unanimous decision.
To this day, Faber is convinced he deserved the decision. But that’s the confidence of a former champion talking. He did not deserve to win that UFC 132 Fight of the Night battle.
Despite losing four-straight title bouts, Faber gets another crack at a belt. He earned that opportunity by knocking out former bantamweight titleholder Brian Bowles on Saturday night at UFC 139.
“He’s not dangerous,” Faber recently said of Cruz during an interview with Inside MMA. “He’s a world champion and there’s no reason why he’s there. He has my respect, but he doesn’t have my respect when it comes to punching power or danger.
“I’ll walk right through his punches and march forward. It’s just [going] to be tracking him down and scoring more points on the way to finishing him.”
Faber remains a respected fighter, and could very well defeat Cruz when they meet for a third time –- Faber won the first meeting during a featherweight title tilt in March 2007 -– but he is far from underrated. You can’t drop four title bouts in a row and still be among this sport’s elite.
A strong argument can be made that Faber isn’t even the second-best bantamweight right now –- many would say that distinction belongs to Joseph Benavidez. And no one seems to be arguing that Benavidez is underrated, despite being a natural flyweight.
By no means is Faber an underrated fighter, so much so that a win over Cruz (currently ranked No. 5 overall by ESPN.com) pretty much guarantees that he will land back on MMA’s pound-for-pound list.