Urijah Faber in the middle of his public workout before UFC 157. - Photo by Esther Lin of MMA Fighting.
The bantamweights, Urijah Faber and Ivan Menjivar, will battle this weekend to stay off the UFC's recent chopping block. If their previous performances are any indication, even the loser may avoid getting cut in this unavoidably high octane scrap.
Given the news of the recent cuts, there's something odious about the potential prospect of seeing the loser in this match leave town. I hope that's not the case. Other divisions can survive trimming their "depth." Bantamweight cannot. But then how is it possible for this match to be anything other than awesome?
It's difficult to summarize Ivan Menjivar's career. Even for those that have seen him fight in the UFC, it's hard to grasp Menjivar's soul. He was the kind of fighter you talked about with other MMA dorks; a name bandied about to indicate you were indeed, a hardcore fan. His name recalls K-1's small MMA venture Hero's, where Genki Sudo would finish his career, and when names like Kazuyuki Miyata and Remigijus Morkevicius sounded like blue chip prospects in the Sherdog underground (how times have changed...). It's almost enough to make a guy all misty-eyed.
Just like the allure of nostalgia, Ivan hasn't changed much. He's cut from the same cloth as his predecessors, like Rumina Sato, and Caol Uno; fighters known as much for their technique as their old school flare. It's amazing to think he's only 30 years old.
Urijah Faber is a lot like these men, in fact. Except instead of being surrounded by the land of maple syrup, like Menjivar has (with a career that was punctuated with its first loss to the now WW champion), Faber's been living the omnivore's paradise in California. Like Kid Yamamoto back in the day, his status as an elite fighter seemed to rest largely on conjecture. When his first real test ended with a dreadfully timed reverse elbow, he was, at least to many fans, "exposed". He's since proven himself, in my opinion...becoming the Kenny Florian of bantamweight. To some, that's an insult. To me, it's a compliment.
What both men can do: Everything. Both men are quick, and have solid right hands that tend to be their go-to strikes. Whereas Menjivar likes to mix up his strikes with kicks, Faber likes to mix his boxing up with takedowns. However, they're different in a lot of ways too. One of the fights I went back to, just for the hell of it, was Menjivar's fight with Hideo Tokoro (though his fight with Uno is better):
Ivan Menjivar VS Hideo Tokoro. part 2 (via henrusha)
It's an enjoyable match that hinges on Tokoro's high-octane grappling, but also a fight that emphasizes Ivan's stellar defense. He's got no trouble getting stuck in the transitions, sometimes offering unique defenses in response; like when Uno kicks him in the leg, which Menjivar catches and then counters with a spinning backfist that lands. He's very good inside the clinch where he's efficient at landing short elbows, and punches; an ability at its most vivid against Charlie Valencia.
However, if Menjivar is good at reacting in the transitions, Faber is a master at initiating them. His wins over Assuncao, Mizugaki, and Bowles were enabled by quick transitions from the feet to the ground. His ability to phase-shift makes him, in my opinion, one of the games still-premier talents. Like the rest of his Alpha Male teammates, he's still a one strike at a time kinda fighter, but his boxing is still pretty good.
What both men can't do: One of the things I don't like when I watch Menjivar fight is that he reacts too much. It's what makes his output so deceiving. Sure he'll end up throwing a lot of strikes when the points are tallied, but most of this comes from waiting for his opponent to initiate. Against Uno, he doesn't start throwing crisp leg kicks of his own until Uno has already battered him with his. Against Tokoro, Menjivar doesn't pull ahead in the fight until Tokoro practically spins himself out of position (which is basically Tokoro's MO).
Faber's weakness is well documented, but just in case you'd like to be reminded:
Skip to the 16:00 minute mark if you don't feel like watching the whole (though great) fight. Faber likes to initiate so much, he can and does get punished for it. You don't see him make these mistakes as much nowadays, but his hyper-aggressiveness still gets him into trouble.
However, Menjivar doesn't have a one hitter quitter type power. Which is what I envision for the fight. Ivan will counter, land leg kicks, and maybe some spinning back fists, but Faber will dictate the pace where ever he feels like with well-timed takedowns, and hyper, but calculated boxing.
Prediction: Urjiah Faber by Decision.