The fight that awaits Urijah Faber in the main event of UFC 149 on Saturday night in Calgary isn’t the one he’s been anticipating for so long. But if the “California Kid” isn’t on top of his game against Renan Barao, he may find a third fight against Dominick Cruz never comes to pass.
Four years ago, Faber (26-5, 2-1 in the UFC) was an MMA phenom, riding one of the longest undefeated streaks in the sport. He became a household name even in the pre-Zuffa WEC, and while his SoCal persona played a big part, it was his success in the cage that cemented it.
That experience also makes him uniquely qualified to appreciate Barao (28-1, 3-0 UFC) and his rapid rise to the top ranks of the sport. The 25-year old Brazilian hasn’t lost since his first professional fight, a run that includes all five of his WEC and UFC bouts.
Barao hasn’t shown any obvious holes in his game despite stepping up to face tougher competition. He gave Brad Pickett a close-up look at his submission skills by pulling off a rear naked choke in less than a round of action at UFC 138, and 13 of his 28 wins have come by tap out. He’s also shown quickness and power in his striking, making him a tough nut to crack.
The irony probably isn’t lost on Faber that very similar things were once said about him. Now he’ll have to hope that his new role as the grizzled veteran and the excellent form that he showed in taking apart Brian Bowles in his last outing will be enough for him to prove he’s not ready to move aside for the Next Big Thing just yet. His uncanny scrambling ability, wrestling skill and general unpredictability haven’t abandoned him as he’s moved into his 3os, giving him a chance to win any fight.
If Faber manages to defy the oddsmakers who have made Barao a narrow favorite, he’ll claim the UFC Interim Bantamweight Championship and likely go right back to waiting for his rubber match with the injured Cruz. A loss not only cedes both those prizes to Barao, it may also signal something unthinkable back in 2008 – that Faber is on the downside of his stellar career.
Four other fights will also be shown on the pay-per-view portion of the card, spanning three different UFC divisions:
Hector Lombard (31-2-1, UFC debut) vs. Tim Boetsch (15-4, 6-3 UFC) – Middleweight
It’s safe to say that Lombard is one of the most experienced and accomplished MMA fighters never to have graced the octagon. The Cuban Judoka is only in this spot because of an injury to Michael Bisping, but he’ll undoubtedly be looking to seize the moment and make a lasting first UFC impression.
Boetsch is a serious underdog, but three straight victories mean he could be a live one. If nothing else, you can’t count him out until the fight is officially won. Yushin Okami found that out the hard way at UFC 144, smacking Boetsch around in the early going only to find himself on the wrong end of a third-round KO.
Cheick Kongo (17-7-2, 10-5-1 UFC) vs. Shawn Jordan (13-3, 1-0 UFC) – Heavyweight
Similar to Barao, Jordan is seen by many as a rising star in his division. The big difference is that he has proven even less, though his TKO of Oli Thompson in his UFC debut was a good one.
He’ll get a test from Kongo, who always come to fight. Despite getting knocked out by Mark Hunt in his last trip to the octagon, Kongo’s kickboxing skills make him a threat, and he’ll have a height advantage to help put them to use.
Should Jordan manage to power his way past Kongo, he’ll be a compelling match-up for several top fighters in a heavyweight division that’s looking deeper all the time.
Brian Ebersole (50-14-1, 4-0 UFC) vs. James Head (8-2, 1-1 UFC) – Welterweight
Add Ebersole’s name to the list of those who are getting a shot due to someone else’s misfortune. In his case it was an injury to Claude Patrick that got him onto the main card, where he will look to stay perfect since joining the UFC. The well-traveled Ebersole has floated all over in weight while competing in numerous promotions, and that experience has him headed into this bout as a heavy favorite.
Head is used to that, as he was considered a significant underdog when he beat Papy Abedi in Sweden in April. The expectation is that he’d like to keep it standing since he came into MMA from a boxing background, but truthfully he might be at a disadvantage against the savvy Ebersole anywhere the fight goes.
Chris Clements (11-4, 1-0 UFC) vs. Matt Riddle (6-3, 6-3 UFC) – Welterweight
Neither of these men were originally on the UFC 149 main card, but they’ll look to take advantage of the opportunity they have against each other. Clements squeaked by Keith Wisniewski by split decision in his UFC debut, but his history suggests that he not be taken lightly as a striker thanks to a number of TKO victories on his resume.
Riddle is something of a polar opposite, as he first entered the UFC through the seventh season of The Ultimate Fighter and hasn’t fought professionally outside the octagon. He comes from a wrestling base that would appear to be his best road to a win here, but don’t be surprised if he attempts to prove his mettle by standing and exchanging strikes with Clements instead.