Tonight, World Extreme Cagefighting kingpin Urijah Faber steps into the cage for the most important fight of his MMA career. That may sound strange - after all, Faber has fought with the WEC Featherweight title on the line nine separate times. But because of the UFC swallowing the WEC whole, those fights didn't mean quite as much as his bantamweight debut against Takeya Mizugaki at the Palms in Las Vegas does. Yahoo's Dave Meltzer explains:
in a highly-competitive UFC environment, while Faber comes in with a name, a reputation and quite a bit of popularity, the kind of depth his new organization offers means much tougher competition for spots on big shows than in the WEC.
With a win on Thursday night over Takeya Mizugaki (13-4-2) in Las Vegas, former featherweight champion Faber (23-4), making his bantamweight debut, would walk into UFC in a strong position, perhaps as a title contender, and almost certainly near the top of the card. But with a loss, Faber is in danger of being something less than a focal point when the bantamweight division shifts over to the UFC.
Zuffa still has high hopes for Faber. He was far and away the WEC's most popular fighter. The shows he headlined drew more viewers to the arena and on television than two standard WEC cards combined. If he can succeed, the sky is the limit in the UFC. Plans are in the works for a bantamweight The Ultimate Fighter and a potential UFC main event. The amount of money on the line is staggering. All Faber needs to do to collect that dough is beat Takeya Mizugaki.
Had he known about the possibility of the UFC calling it quits on the WEC experiment, Faber might have never accepted a fight with a serious opponent like Mizugaki. A win immediately puts him in line for a main or co-main event. A loss sends him spiralling down the card. And even Faber recognizes how risky this fight is, explaining to Ron Kruk just how dangerous Mizugaki is:
...the most difficult part about Mizugaki is that the fact that he’s going to come forward and not quit. You see him go against all these tough guys and he knows what he likes to do. He loves to fight, he loves to come straight forward. He is good at defending take-downs, he’s got a couple of good take-downs himself, mostly upper body stuff but he’s never really been in some serious danger on the ground, occasionally getting into a little bit of trouble but he’s a well-rounded fighter and he’s also big for the weight class, so the one thing that I’m going to be different and better at is being creative in thinking outside the box. Now especially with fighting guys that are my same size… you know, he’s going to have to do a lot to finish me and I just don’t think it’s going to happen and I think I’ve got a lot of ways to finish him."
There's a lot on the line for any fighter in the main event of a major promotion's card. Sometimes it's a title belt. Sometimes it's hundreds of thousands of dollars. For Urijah Faber it's the opportunity of a lifetime. That's the beauty of combat sports - it all comes down to Faber. His fate, quite literally, is in his own hands. Opportunities have emerged, the kind that have never existed for a cage fighter of his size. It's now or never for the California Kid to become the star Zuffa's always hoped he could be.