Urijah Faber will look to avoid an 0-4 record in his last four title fights this Saturday at UFC 149. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
In a strange way, one of the many injuries that some of the top UFC stars suffered may have worked in their benefit as opposed to their detriment.
When UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz tore his ACL during this season's filming of The Ultimate Fighter, it put his third fight with Urijah Faber on ice. With Cruz likely out of action for a year, the stars will have to align just right for the rivals to meet up again with a title on the line.
With the bantamweight division still relatively thin with true championship contenders, the 33-year-old Faber has taken full advantage. After being bested by then-champion Cruz in a unanimous decision a year ago, the former WEC 145-pound champ needed a lone victory over Brian Bowles to earn another opportunity.
With good looks, a solid rep among the MMA faithful and a likeable persona, Faber is a star in a company that needs them. The UFC knows that, which is why Cruz's injury might turn out being a blessing in disguise. Faber just has to win in order to bring it to fruition.
More on this and other SBN coverage of UFC 149 after the jump.
Had Faber/Cruz III taken place, Cruz would have been a definitive favorite. Unbeaten in 10 straight, Cruz (19-1) has defended his WEC/UFC gold four straight times since he won the belt in March 2010. Six years Faber's junior, Cruz's speed gave Faber issues in their second fight and there's no reason to think that would have changed if they fought again.
But for as talented as Cruz was inside the Octagon, that hasn't translated outside of it. Despite his dominance, Cruz isn't seen in the same light of some of his heavier competitors that also wear gold. His season coaching against Faber in TUF lacked heat (and ratings) and their confrontations seemed forced. Some look down on his fighting style as evasive rather than entertaining and some simply just don't like him.
Faber, of course, is a natural for the spotlight even though he's 0-3 in his last three title opportunities since losing his WEC 145-pound gold to Mike Brown. When he was the champ, he was at the top of his game, selling out the Arco Arena in Sacramento, CA. and headlining several events in Las Vegas for an organization built around smaller fighters. All that has been missing is a UFC title run and with Cruz out of the way, he has his best opportunity yet to do just that.
He'll need to best a tough challenger in Renan Barao to do it -- easier said than done. It's a fight that Faber is not favored to win, but one that would be in everyone's best interests if he did. While young and exciting, Barao isn't well known enough by the MMA faithful and his long win streak isn't carrying much promotional weight because the vast majority weren't seen by our eyes.
A Brazilian, Barao isn't fluent in English which provides another barrier to casual fan entry. A dominant, exciting win over Faber could change all that but the UFC needs stars now, which is why a Faber win would be a huge benefit. In Faber, they would have a no doubt pay-per-view/Fox draw and someone that would provide some high profile fights, especially against a young fighter like Michael McDonald or a champion vs. champion match against Cruz.
With the UFC having an unlucky past few months, perhaps they will catch a break Saturday and Faber will walk out with the interim 135-pound title. Faber will just have to be on his A-game to do it.