Can Urijah Faber Find Success As A Bantamweight?

On Thursday night the longtime superstar of the WEC will make his eleventh and final appearance inside the Cage. But for Urijah Faber, WEC 52 is more about determining his future in the UFC than celebrating the past.

As the longtime World Champion, Faber played the leading role in establishing the featherweight division but has in the past two years struggled to regain his previous form after suffering a crushingly quick defeat to Mike Brown. Despite twice being given world title matches after securing a solitary comeback win Faber has been unable to reclaim the crown he once wore so comfortably. And while he can blame an early hand injury for his second loss to Brown there were no mitigating circumstances for the way Jose Aldo was able to dissect him with piercing leg kicks for twenty-five minutes.

Firmly out of title contention in the division he once dominated, Faber announced his intention to drop down to 135Ibs. A knee injury delayed his bantamweight debut but at WEC 52 he will finally face former world title challenger Takeya Mizugaki. In doing so he will be attempting to join the surprisingly small number of fighters who have successfully managed to wear world championship gold at two different weights in MMA.

Like Faber, the men that have won UFC championships in two divisions both moved down in weight after falling out of world title contention due to losing two high profile fights. However, whereas Faber was simply unlucky against Brown and outclassed by Aldo, both BJ Penn and Randy Couture could legitimately point to size being the major contributing factor to their defeats. In 2006 BJ Penn had to finally acknowledge he was too small for the modern welterweight division when first George St. Pierre and then Matt Hughes were able to use their additional size and strength to overpower him. The same thing happened to Couture in 2002 when in successive bouts against large, athletic heavyweights he was eventually worn down despite winning early rounds. Both fighters benefited from moving to a lighter division because it removed the main reason why they were struggling to win at the heavier weight.

For Faber dropping to 135Ibs removes no such burden as there’s no reason to believe that his recent defeats have been the result of being undersized. Indeed, instead of solving a problem Faber may find that the move down creates one.

As BJ Penn has recently discovered, fighting smaller opponents increases the probability that you will eventually face somebody who is significantly faster than you. Whereas at welterweight Penn was able to use footwork and handspeed to defeat Matt Hughes in 2003, against Frankie Edgar he was made to look sluggish due to Edgar’s superior speed and movement. Faber has always relied on his natural athleticism to not only outwork his opponents but also to beat them to the punch. At bantamweight he will have to face faster opponents whilst also contending with a steeper weight cut. He may therefore find it a struggle to keep up with the likes of Dominick Cruz and Miguel Torres. Indeed, a cynic would suggest that by being matched up against Mizugaki, a fighter who despite his quality is not particularly fast by bantamweight standards, Faber is being giving the chance to eanr a world title shot at 135Ibs before this aspect of his game is fully tested.

Other than a realization that there was no way to justify a quick return to world title contention at featherweights, there seems to be a lack of logic in Faber’s decision to move down to bantamweight. His recent problems were not caused by him giving up too much size while moving into a division filled with lightening fast fighters may negate the speed advantage that has previously relied on. If this move down in weight is to be successful then Faber must make sure to improve his all round game by addressing the issues raised by his defeats to Brown and Aldo. If on the other hand he thinks that simply changing divisions will make his problems go away then Urijah Faber will eventually suffer the same fate as Jens Pulver.

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