Urijah Faber has now lost five consecutive title fights in two different weight classes. His tepid performance last night against Renan Barao may have been his last chance at a championship belt of any sort, unified or interim. At this point, the only way Faber fights Dominick Cruz for a 3rd time is in a non-title fight with Renan Barao as a champion. But I see Faber's showing (or lack thereof) as a microcosm of the bigger picture - the two most dominant fighters in the WEC, Miguel Torres and Urijah Faber, are no longer dominant and no longer legitimate title challengers.
The WEC has been long known as the organization where you could watch the smaller weight classes compete, and until 2009, the 2nd tier of welterweights to light-heavyweights. And from 2007 to 2009, the two most dominant champions in their respective weight classes were Urijah Faber at featherweight, and Miguel Torres at bantamweight. Faber had won the WEC title over Joe Pearson at WEC 25 in 2007, and would not only defend his title 4 times, but he would do so with seemingly minimal effort and nary a hint of vulnerability. He was the poster boy of the WEC and easily the most recognizable fighter outside of the UFC. By the time he dominated Jens Pulver in 2008, Faber's pro record reached 21-1. One incredibly ill-conceived spinning elbow later, little-known Mike Brown ended The California Kid's reign atop the featherweight division with a stunning TKO at WEC 36 in early November.
It's quite possible the WEC did not expect Faber to ever lose (and not to someone whose last fight was on the unseen prelims), but damage control was immediate to give Faber another title shot. Faber needed only one win, an easy rematch over Pulver, and the rematch with Brown was on in Faber's backyard of Sacramento. Brown would prove it was no fluke, and Faber suffered a broken right hand in his decision loss. The aura of invincibility was over, and when new champion Jose Aldo obliterated Faber at WEC 48, it forced him to make the drop to bantamweight.
The new weight class brought similar results - impressive wins in non-title fights, only to come up short against Dominick Cruz and then last night in the interim bout with Barao. Faber went from 21-1 to 26-6, or 5-5 in his last 10.
In a similar but less prominent tale of decline, Miguel Angel Torres burst onto the WEC scene with a 32-1 regional record, and was the bantamweight champion just two fights later after submitting Chase Beebe at WEC 32. Torres defended his title 3 times, most notably his epic battle with Takeya Mizugaki that was considered one of the best fights of 2009. WEC commentator Frank Mir went as far as saying that Torres was the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. As crazy as that sounds now, he still had some merit to that argument based on his dominance in the division and his long winning streak. Well on August 9th, 2009, Brian Bowles shocked the world with a first-round KO of Torres.
Torres never even got the chance to prove his loss was a fluke, as he was dominated by Joseph Benavidez at WEC 47, moments before Brian Bowles would lose his title to Dominick Cruz in the main event. In the last two years, Torres has had mixed results, and most recently was violently knocked out by Michael McDonald at UFC 145.
Between Faber and Torres, their combined record from the night they lost their respective titles to today is just 8-9. None of Torres' last 3 wins are still in the UFC. You could easily say that they never mentally recovered from losing their belts, but I don't think it's that simple. Faber is 33-years-old with 32 pro fights and 9 years experience. Torres is 31-years-old with 45 fights and 12 years under his belt. The average age of the fighters Faber has lost to at the time of the fight is 26.75, while Torres' average is even younger at 25. All of Torres' losses have come to guys under 30-years-old (Bowles was the oldest at 29), and only Mike Brown bucks the trend by beating Faber twice when he was 33.
In my opinion, what we're seeing is a clear changing of the guard. Both Faber and Torres are battle-worn veterans and are losing to guys who are young, talented, and entering the prime of their careers. Jose Aldo and Dominick Cruz each have more successful title defenses than Faber and Torres, at just 25 and 27 respectively. Add in interim champ Renan Barao (also 25), 21-year-old Michael McDonald, and potentially 28-year-old Mike Easton, and prospects of a late resurgence to the summit for Faber and Torres look slim. Neither man has declined enough to fade into irrelevancy -- in fact they both have the skills to beat many current bantamweights on the roster-- but it's a young man's sport and it's slowly passing them by. All but two current champions are in their 20s, and after spending years as fighters in their 20s fighting at a championship-level, they are now men in their 30s losing to 20-something fighters fighting at a championship-level.