It’s fight week once again, and UFC 169 is rapidly approaching from the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. This Saturday night event features an absolutely pivotal bantamweight title between champion Renan Barao and Urijah Faber.
The bout, which is a rematch of Barao’s interim-title winning effort at UFC 149, is set to be an extremely close fight. Faber has beaten four top-level opponents in 2013, and Barao is on an incredible 32-fight unbeaten streak.
To gear up for the blockbuster Super Bowl Weekend title tilt, I sat down with Faber to discuss a litany of topics. They included his upcoming bout with Barao, the surging Team Alpha Male, Jose Aldo, and of course, Dominick Cruz. Check out what ‘The California Kid’ had to say:
Mike Drahota: You recently said that Barao slowed down your first fight but this time around, you want to push the pace and make this bout “dirty.” How has your overall gameplan changed due to that mentality?
Urijah Faber: “I have to take the fight to him this time, make it a fight. The whole card was kind of slow leading up to our last fight, and that continued into our match. I want to make sure we’re both going for the finish.”
Drahota: You’re thought to have the wrestling edge over Barao, with submissions and striking being about as close as they can get. Some think Barao has a bit more power while you may have more speed. Where do you see your advantages in this fight?
Faber: “I’m always in great shape. I think I have the most submissions victories in WEC/UFC (he’s tied with Royce Gracie at 11). I think I have a functional submission edge over Barao. He’s extremely durable and I can take a ton of damage. I just gotta dish more out in this fight."
Drahota: (Former champ) Dominick Cruz has had a horrendous run of bad luck the past two years. Injuries are part of the fight game, but do you realistically see yourself fighting him again in the future?
Faber: “I believe the guy’ll be back. You have to fight a little hurt sometimes, and he may have to just go out there and fight at less than one hundred percent. I believe we’ll have another fight.”
Drahota: Can he return to championship level?
Faber: “I think a champion mindset is what makes a champion. I don’t know if he’ll be the champion. Hard to say if he’ll be the champion again. I’ve got two guys on my team, T.J. Dillashaw and Chris Holdsworth, where if he comes back to face either one of them, he’ll be in a world of hurt.”
Drahota: Last year was an insane year for you with four wins. It was a great year for Team Alpha Male as a whole, really. How has the team’s mental focus and confidence been boosted thanks to Coach Ludwig?
Faber: “There’s a lot more thought to each practice. Pretty much the same schedule with our standup and jiu-jitsu, but Duane thinks out every practice. It’s a big load off my shoulders. It’s been awesome. His Muay Thai is really unique, and he knows the fight game. “
Drahota: So what I hear you saying is that he’s let you go back to focusing solely on being a fighter?
Faber: “I enjoy mentoring the guys but I had to make sure that things are running smoothly. It’s hard to control other people and I don’t like to do that. I still am doing my best with the younger guys. It’s mostly mental."
Drahota: Was 2013 your best year as a fighter?
Faber: “Um, you know, it’s hard, right now I’m in the thick of it, but I’ve had some good years in the past. I feel like getting the belt and leading the UFC bantamweight division in wins and submissions and accuracy for power punching is big. Having the UFC name attached to that makes it huge. I’ve had some great years, I once went 7-0 in 13 months, but this is a real monumental one, so I would say it is.”
Drahota: Along those lines, I remember a quote of yours a couple years back that was simple but struck so true. You said, “People will get you down if you let ‘em.” How has that calm philosophy helped you deal with the ups and downs of fighting?
Faber: “Just basically, you know, there are so many people out there with their own opinions. You can't expect them to understand you as an individual, what you have in your mind, your heart, your past. You just gotta ignore the naysayers thank the supporters and believe in yourself. If you focused on every little thing someone said about you on the Internet, it wouldn’t be a very good quality of life.”
Drahota: Do you feel any added pressure from five straight title losses?
Faber: “No. I mean, they’re the only losses I’ve had in my career, so my most of my career has been in title fights. It’s just a statistic that people are looking at. I had broken hands, and made some bad decisions. In my mind, people don’t mention the fact that I beat a bunch of former world champions to get there.”
Drahota: T.J. Dillashaw is quickly rising up the bantamweight ranks. It’s not all that crazy to envision a scenario where you have the belt and he’s dangerously close to getting a title shot. Do you guys have a no-fight agreement like GSP and Rory MacDonald?
Faber: “You know, our team is like a family, so it’s not something I would ever do. I probably wouldn’t do it. I have no desire. I would only do it as a favor to him. Unless Dana and Lorenzo offered T.J. a ton of cash. On the other side, we fight each other all the time in practice, and it’s a coin toss. So it’s any given day. Our team isn’t going anywhere from the title picture for years.”
“For example, Joseph Morales has been training with me since he was 10 or 11 years old, now he’s 18 or 19, and he hangs with me in practice. I had to find that one out the hard way when I was trying to help him out for an international competition. I was sick, I saw him sparring, so I had been out and I felt like crap, but I was like, ‘You need some sparring?’ I got caught with a couple punches and I was like, holy crap I’m fighting a man. The difference is just opportunity. We got a ton of guys in our gym that are just world championship-caliber.”
Drahota: Do fighters like Chris Holdsworth and T.J. Dillashaw motivate you to get better?
Faber: “Definitely. When you see guys with the equal skill and equal mindset, it just reminds you how important it is to stay on the grind. I get a lot of motivation from T.J. and Chris. We’ve got hungry athletes. Some of our top up-and-comers go for 15 mile runs on their day off. I just found that out. Everybody’s doing extra. It’s going to be a great decade for Team Alpha Male and beyond."
Drahota: I know that changing weight classes has been an idea you’ve played around with in the past. Would you move up to featherweight or down to flyweight for the right fight?
Faber: “First and foremost, I would never go down to flyweight. I might not be dead, but I’d be pretty damn close to dead if I tried to make 125 (pounds). I would take some fights if the UFC brass would want, I’d be willing to do some of those fights at 145. I can get up to 158-160 pretty easily. I’m naturally bigger than I was when I fought 45. I’ve gone into fights at 135 at 153.”
Drahota: You had a ton of praise for your UFC on FOX 9 opponent Michael McDonald. But, he was brutally finished by both you and Barao. Will he have to wait until you guys retire to hold the belt?
Faber: “Michael McDonald is very tough. I would only say one thing about him: that he doesn’t train outside of his little circle. I know that he’s a man of faith and he believes that’s where he can be the best. He’s not only going to have trouble with myself and Barao, but also with Chris Holdsworth and T.J. Dillashaw.”
“It’s a competition with us three. Holdsworth puts in a full day in the gym and T.J.’s the kind of guy you have to kick out of the gym. We’re going to have a long line of killers lining up to get a crack at that belt. I know Michael McDonald will be in the mix, and he won’t get be able to get past Chris and T.J.”
Drahota: It recently came out that Jose Aldo might move up to lightweight to fight Anthony Pettis if he beats Ricardo Lamas at UFC 169. If Aldo stays at featherweight, do you think his next fight should be a rematch with Chad Mendes? Would Mendes beat him the second time around?
Faber: “I definitely think the rematch with Chad makes sense; he’s an amazing athlete, really on a different level. In my opinion, Aldo’s the best pound-for-pound guy in the world. Chad Mendes, when I train with him, I know he’s on that level, as well. It just makes sense to have that again. Very first round, that’s the only time Chad’s been defeated. One second left in the round, and it was a close first round. I think there’s more to that story and I’d like to see it.”
“I’d also like to see him fight Pettis because Pettis needs to beat a top pound-for-pound guy. I feel like that’s the reason you have the pound-for-pound rankings, to see who’s the best regardless of weight class.”
“Aldo’s a big guy, late 20s-early 30s; I would imagine he’d do just fine at 155. I feel like I could go up and compete at 155 and hold my own. I’m sure I could hold my own.”
Drahota: Do you think you’ll ever fight Aldo again?
Faber: “I don’t think I’ll get another shot at Aldo. There’s a lot of things that’d have to happen. It’s not something I think about.”
Drahota: Can you tell us a bit about your journey from MMA’s “dark ages” to the lofty position you enjoy now?
Faber: “My journey has been long. It wasn’t filled with a lot of notoriety. I was fighting in Indian casinos for 200 to show, 200 to win when it was illegal in California. It’s pretty cool that I got to be part of the “Wild West” in the sport and now the pinnacle of the sport. What a huge difference from 10-11 years ago.”
Drahota: You’ve been a runaway freight train and Barao is one of very few fighters who can actually match that momentum. Does that fact make this fight the biggest bantamweight MMA bout ever?
Faber: “You know, as far as peoples’ knowledge of both of us, there’s been some big fights. There’s been some big fights and I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of all of them. My fight with Cruz. Right now, this has to be. The UFC has only had this division for a couple years, so this has to be.”
Drahota: Thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to us Urijah. Any sponsors you’d like to thank?
Follow Urijah’s sponsors at:
Speed Memory Tag
Follow Urijah on Twitter: @UrijahFaber
Follow Team Alpha Male at: TeamAlphaMale.com
Photo: Kyle Terada for USA TODAY Sports