Promoted to the Front Page by Anton Tabuena
When Urijah Faber enters the cage this Saturday night to challenge Dominick Cruz for the inaugural UFC bantamweight championship, he will also be looking to avoid a dubious distinction: becoming the only man to lose four consecutive title fights in major-league MMA competition.
In the history of "major-league" MMA (which I'm defining as UFC, PRIDE, WEC, Strikeforce, EliteXC, Affliction), many of the biggest names have lost two consecutive title fights, including Randy Couture, Kenny Florian, Tim Sylvia, Frank Mir, Tito Ortiz, Rich Franklin, Matt Hughes, and B.J. Penn. But losing three consecutive title fights is a burden borne only by two men - Dan Henderson, who lost three consecutive title bouts in two weight classes and in two organizations, and Urijah Faber, who came up short in each of his last three title fights at featherweight. "Hendo" has shaken off the curse with the capturing of the Strikeforce light heavyweight strap, which would leave Faber on a very lonely island with a loss this weekend.
The highest-profile fighter to transition into the UFC when Zuffa closed the "blue cage" of the WEC and folded its talent into the Octagon, Urijah Faber had at one point compiled a gaudy 21-1 record. The longtime "poster boy" for the WEC, Faber captured its 145-pound title from Cole Escovedo at WEC 19 and followed with five consecutive successful defenses, terminating with a fight of the year candidate scrap against Jens Pulver at WEC 34. Faber was unanimously considered the #1 featherweight in the world and was being penciled into multiple pound-for-pound lists.
Then, at WEC 36, Faber ran into Mike Thomas Brown. Literally. Fighting with his characteristically incautious style, Faber ran directly into a thunderous right hook which dropped him. Unable to defend himself on the ground, Faber succumbed to a TKO referee stoppage.
Following a quick first-round stoppage of Pulver, Faber received a rematch for the title that was once his. The fight with Brown at WEC 41 went very differently from their first - with Faber showing incredible heart in lasting all 25 minutes with one broken hand and one damaged hand - but the result was the same as Brown defended the title.
Seven months later, Faber was paired with top featherweight contender, 15-1 Raphael Assuncao. Faber submitted Assuncao late in round three to earn another title shot, this time at Jose Aldo, who had in the meantime won the featherweight title from Mike Brown.
Faber once again showed his characteristic heart and spirit in lasting all 25 minutes of what is often described as a "leg kick clinic" against Aldo. Aldo, who is currently ranked #1 by every major pundit in the USA Today / SB Nation featherweight rankings, dominated Faber from start to finish, outstriking him nearly 6 to 1 (FightMetric) and landing 27 strikes to the legs (although it seemed like dozens).
Finding himself in the curious position of a Rich Franklin or Kenny Florian - able to beat most or potentially all other peers at his weight but having lost multiple consecutive title fights - Faber was potentially doomed to pace out his career treading water: fighting whatever contenders the WEC (and then UFC) would allow him to face while hoping that his fate would be different if he ever stepped into the cage to challenge Aldo again.
Instead, and logically, Faber chose the same path as Franklin and Florian - a weight change and new vistas. In June 2010, Faber stated that UFC brass were pushing him to drop to bantamweight (135 pounds). Faber, who wrestled in college at 133 pounds, was happy with the move, saying it was probably a more natural weight for him.
After submitting Takeya Mizugaki at WEC 52 and besting former WEC bantamweight champ Eddie Wineland in his UFC debut, Faber was signed to challenge reigning WEC (now UFC) bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz. The match has a "bad blood" tone - Faber is the only man to defeat Cruz, submitting him in his second WEC featherweight title defense, and neither man is overly fond of the other. Despite losing their first encounter, however, it is Cruz who is the betting favorite in the rematch.
Faber is still marketable, and with one win already over the champ, it would not be out of the question for him to get a second bantamweight title shot in short order even if he should lose this weekend. However, these are dangerous times for "the California Kid". With other promising contenders such as Demetrious Johnson, Joseph Benavidez, Brian Bowles, and Scott Jorgensen in the pipeline, Faber's place in line for another shot would not be a lay-up with a loss this weekend. If he should get stuck with four consecutive losses in title fights across two weight classes, his future inside the Octagon could be that of gatekeeper for other talent.