On Saturday night in Newark, N.J. Urijah Faber finally gets to enjoy the fruit of his labors.
From his debut on Versus as the headliner of WEC 28 to the promotion’s final event Faber was the ever-present poster boy of World Extreme Cagefighting.
And it’s not hard to see why. His dominant reign as featherweight champion brought accolades and more importantly new fans and more attention to previously unheralded lighter weight classes. His good looks, easygoing charm and exciting fighting style made him a natural fan favorite and led to him getting a level of exposure far beyond the wildest dreams of most fighters outside the UFC.
Faber’s fights against Jens Pulver, Mike Brown and Jose Aldo reached new heights in terms of fan interest with the Pulver and Brown fights drawing record ratings. His unsuccessful attempt to wrest the title away from Aldo proved you didn’t need to weigh more than 155 pounds to draw on pay per view.
The fight against Aldo coupled with the relative failure of non-Faber headlined shows to capture the same attention convinced the UFC to finally merge with the WEC and allow the featherweights and bantamweights to fight in the UFC. This was a testament to the remarkable success Faber, along with Miguel Torres, had been in introducing fans to their divisions and firmly establishing the worth of their championships. Without them WEC may never have taken the bold step of eschewing all divisions above 155 pounds and so investing more time and resources into developing the lighter weight divisions until they were ready for the UFC.
But now that Faber is welcomed into the Octagon, the former WEC champion has it all to prove again. Many will have heard the name Urijah Faber and will know his reputation of having exciting fights, but for most UFC 128 will be his chance to show them just how good he is. Torres failed to make the best first impression at UFC 126, sadly disappointing fans who had been hyped to expect a reckless all-action contest by fighting behind his long jab for three rounds. The quickness of fans turning on Torres is a warning to Faber about what they expect him to do when the cage door shuts.
Luckily for Faber, Eddie Wineland should bring the fight to him in a way that Antonio Banuelos couldn’t against Torres. Wineland is himself a former WEC champion and is on an impressively violent four-fight win streak, having earned Knockout of the Night in his past two victories. Refocused and rededicated the aggressive, heavy-handed striker will be looking to drop bombs before the California Kid has the chance to use his excellent wrestling to take the fight to the ground.
This fight has everything needed to be the fight of the night. For the future of the bantamweight division it’s important that it’s a positive showcase for the division and helps win over skeptical or just plain ignorant UFC fans. A crucial part of that is a victory for Faber.
While it’s harsh to root against Wineland, there can be no doubting that’s exactly what UFC president Dana White and matchmaker Joe Silva will be doing Saturday night. As judged by the extensive time they set aside on this week’s “Countdown” preview special, the UFC knows Faber is its best chance of developing a truly marketable star to lead the integration of the lighter-weight classes.
In so many ways it was the hard work and marketability of Faber that got the two lighter weight classes to the UFC. Now at UFC 128 he has the chance to continue to be the leading force in their development. Should he win in tomorrow’s co-main event then it’s more than likely that he will challenge for the UFC bantamweight title and possibly co-star against current champion Dominick Cruz in the 14th season of the UFC’s “The Ultimate Fighter” TV show, a season that will feature featherweight and bantamweight rookies.
First impressions count for a lot and the UFC will be hoping it can count on Urijah Faber to make a good one.
Tags: Eddie Wineland, Jens Pulver, Jose Aldo, Mike Brown, Mixed Martial Arts, UFC 128, UFC Bantamweight Division, Urijah Faber, WEC