Saturday's was supposed to be a showcase bout for Urijah Faber. Already heavily marketed as the WEC's poster boy, Faber's fight with Eddie Wineland was intended to introduce him to UFC fans in grand style. Wineland had an impressive enough resume to make the win seem like a big deal, but also had a fighting style that was supposed to make it an easy night for Faber.
"I was excited. Before the event today, actually coming here, I didn't feel anything different," Faber said at the post fight press conference. "But I don't normally get nervous and I had a little bit of weird nerves going. It's the mystique of the UFC and I like it."
And then the bell rang. For 15 minutes, Wineland did nothing he was expected to do and everything he was told was impossible. He didn't attack wildly, never looking for a one punch knockout and leaving himself off balance and vulnerable for a Faber takedown. Instead he defended attempts with aplomb, working his whizzer like he was a young John Smith. It was a very cautious fight for Wineland and it cost Faber his chance to make a mark outside the media capitol of the world.
"He kind of surprised me with some stuff. Just kind of pressed me up against the cage at the beginning," Faber said. "But the only thing that hurts is my thumb and I think I had him in danger a couple of times. He didn't do any scrambling so I didn't get a chance to do any submissions...I was happy to get the win but I thought I could do better."
In the end, it was a solid win for Faber. But it wasn't spectacular. It certainly wasn't the kind of fight that launches a man into superstardom. It was just another fight on a night full of them. If anyone remembers it at all it's because they had money on it - but it wasn't a starmaker.
And really, that's what UFC 128 was all about. The UFC went all in with Jon Jones, promoting him heavily in the weeks leading up to the fight, a decision vindicated by a tremendous and dominant performance against Mauricio Rua in the main event. Faber was supposed to beat Wineland in similarly startling fashion, perhaps as a prelude to a gig coaching The Ultimate Fighter.
UFC officials have confirmed that Faber will fight champion Dominick Cruz for the bantamweight title as soon as Cruz is ready after breaking his hand in his last fight. It's sure to be a fun bout, perhaps another PPV semi-main event or a free television headliner. But leading with it on PPV, minus the push of a season of The Ultimate Fighter, is out the window. There's no longer a chance it will be a big money fight. Those are the stakes in the UFC. Welcome to the major leagues of MMA Urijah - you're going to love it.