Urijah Faber's reputation as one of the most influential fighters of all time, especially when it comes to lighter weight classes, is secure. Now … can he win that UFC title?
The topic has been exhausted in recent years, as Faber has gone winless in five consecutive title appearances (twice in the UFC and three times in the WEC) dating back to 2008.
His attempt to win a title, however, is once again a main talking point ahead of UFC 169 this weekend in Newark, N.J. Faber, 34, meets Renan Barao for the bantamweight title in a rematch of a fight that took place in July 2012.
Barao won the first meeting (via unanimous decision) and oddsmakers have pegged him a near 3-1 favorite to win this one.
Prior to his last fight, a submission win over Michael McDonald in December, Faber said he doesn't have to win a UFC title to cement his legacy in mixed martial arts.
That's true, but the unfortunate reality is that if Faber doesn't win a UFC title, he is probably cementing another piece to his legacy -- one that remembers him for earning six title shots in six years and losing every one of them.
Faber dismisses that as a fabrication of the media -- just something to talk about in the buildup of a fight. That dismissal doesn't make it any less true, though.
The big question ahead of UFC 169 is a simple one: Does Faber get over the hump and win a UFC championship? If he doesn't, he risks being remembered as much for his inability to win a UFC title fight as his ability to get to one.
Renan Barao (31-1) versus Urijah Faber (30-6), bantamweight title fight
- Odds: Barao -270; Faber +230
Breakdown: The challenge Barao poses to Faber is the same one his teammate, Jose Aldo, posed when he fought 'The California Kid' in April 2010 -- his kicks.
It's hard to forget what Aldo did to Faber's lead leg in that fight. Barao's kicks weren't nearly as devastating against Faber, but they were still key in his success.
Barao is a big bantamweight who controls distance extremely well. If Faber can't get inside that kickboxing distance Barao wants to establish, he's done.
It's hard to close that distance on Barao, though. Landing counters is difficult, as he doesn't telegraph offense. He doesn't overreact to feints and fakes and he fights tall, meaning it can be difficult reaching his chin even if you time a counter properly.
The thing Faber has going for him is speed. Faber is one of the quickest guys in the division. In the first Barao fight, he had some success with the lead right hand, which is one of his quickest entry moves from the outside.
Even with that upright stance, Barao seems nearly impossible to take down. His balance is incredible and his knees in the clinch force most opponents to abandon the position quickly. Bottom line, I don't see Faber forcing a ground fight.
Prediction: Faber is one of the best fighters I've ever watched, but styles make fights and it will be constantly on him to get to the inside. Every low kick Barao lands is significant, as it diminishes Faber's ability to move. BARAO BY DECISION.
Jose Aldo (23-1) versus Ricardo Lamas (13-2), featherweight title fight
- Odds: Aldo -600; Lamas +450
Breakdown: Nicknames don't always describe a fighter's style, but in Lamas' case, "the bully" fits.
One undeniable thing about him: He's a shark if there's blood in the water. Some guys just naturally react well when an opponent's hurt and Lamas is one of them. He recognizes it and opens up, but stays under control.
He's going to have the same problem that everyone has with Aldo -- dealing with the speed. Lamas has a functional jab and mixes things well but true to his nickname, he's best when in the face of an opponent. He's not as strong when backing up.
And Aldo will force Lamas to back up. Aldo will force a charging wild animal to back up.
The best way to deal with Aldo's stand-up is to put him on his back, which surely Lamas will try. He's a former collegiate wrestler who has transitioned his takedowns well for MMA, but driving under Aldo's center of gravity is dangerous work.
Prediction: I've underestimated Lamas before, but this is a different animal he's taking on in Newark. I see Aldo delivering his closing statements at 145 pounds and announcing a move to lightweight. SECOND ROUND TKO, ALDO.