Between the buzz created from UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic’s opening-round destruction of Alistair Overeem and CM Punk’s painfully unsuccessful MMA debut, it was easy to overlook a seemingly meaningless bantamweight bout between veteran Urijah Faber and relative unknown Jimmie Rivera at last weekend’s UFC 203 in Cleveland.
Facing an opponent who’d idolized him for years, Faber wasn’t expected to have too much trouble in his main card matchup against the non-contender. After all, he looked solid while going the distance in a unanimous decision loss to bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz only three months earlier, and there was little reason to believe that Rivera could conquer such an accomplished fighter under any circumstances.
But after limiting takedown opportunities, attacking his lead leg and significantly outstriking one of his former Octagon idols, Rivera was awarded the biggest win of his UFC career by unanimous decision over “The California Kid,” and as a result, Faber’s MMA future is now clouded with question marks.
At the age of 37, Faber is still considered to be one of the best bantamweights in the business. Before debuting on the sport’s biggest stage with a win over Eddie Wineland in March of 2011, Faber won his way to a WEC featherweight title while posting a 9-3 mark in the now-defunct promotion. But it’s been more than seven years since he’s worn a crown of any kind, and losses in three of his last four fights have forced Faber to face the inevitable.
Immediately following June’s gut-wrenching loss to Cruz, Faber fuelled further questions concerning his fighting future by remaining fairly quiet on the topic of retirement at the post-fight press conference.
”First off, props to Cruz for an amazing fight,” Faber told Yahoo Sports. ”He’s a heavy hitter, not as heavy as my boy Cody [Garbrandt], but he’s a heavy hitter. The game plan [versus Cruz] was to keep the pressure. This has been a terrific journey for me, 13 years. I can’t really say I’m going to end this journey yet, but I’m going to enjoy my time off and figure out what to do then. Keep an eye out for my guys. Right now I’m going to relax and put some ice on it.”
While those post-loss comments told us next to nothing about Faber’s future, we know that whatever remains of his UFC career isn’t likely to be spent in the spotlight now that he’s broken one of the sport’s most sacred commandments by losing twice to his division’s reigning ruler.
Regardless of how many times you’ve heard a fellow fight fan or analyst rave about it, the fact that last year’s loss to Frankie Edgar stood as the only non-title fight loss of Faber’s entire career entering UFC 203 can’t be overstated.
Remember, we’re not talking about someone who’s known for ducking top-notch opponents. Faber’s legacy was literally born during his then-unprecedented run of seven straight title fights that began his time in the WEC, and despite failing to equal those accomplishments in the UFC, his strongest supporters will always think of him as a champion.
However, we’re also talking about someone who’s currently in the midst of the first two-fight losing streak of his career, as well as an aging former champion who’s now dropped three of his last four Octagon appearances at a time when opportunities are running low. And at the very least, Faber knows that last Saturday’s loss to Rivera most likely marked the beginning of the end.
While waiting to hear what’s next for Faber, Octagon addicts will have to get their fill of Faber from TUF re-runs and episodes of UFC Unleashed. Fortunately, he’s long been a coach, mentor, and resident role-model for Sacramento’s Team Alpha Male, and during last week’s pre-fight festivities, Faber was more than happy to steer a little added attention towards teammate Cody Garbrandt’s recent run of success.
”I’m excited about it,” Faber told FOX Sports. ”Honestly if you look at social media, Cody has like three times the interaction of anyone else in our weight class. He posts something, people are excited about it.”
In the self-involved surroundings of the UFC, Faber’s unconditionally unselfish approach and obvious desire to share the spotlight have combined to make him a genuinely rare commodity. It may not seem like it now, but MMA needs Faber in the same way that baseball once needed stars with strong character such as Lou Gehrig.
But that doesn’t mean that Faber has to fight until his mid-forties. And while a potential match-up against former protege T.J. Dillashaw and unexpected Octagon opportunities may offer the veteran an intriguing future, it’s time for Faber to begin a new chapter of his illustrious career and hang-up his gloves for good.