When Dominick Cruz hurt his knee this week, it caused a lot of problems in the UFC. It caused an entire card to be changed and will most likely end up changing at least one, if not two, other cards the UFC has lined up. It’s also ruined the final part of a trilogy between Cruz and Urijah Faber that was much anticipated. With talk of an interim title fight for Faber lined up, with Cruz facing up to a year recovery time with a torn ACL, the one thing being overlooked is that now the pressure is even greater for Urijah Faber. Why?
Because if he loses to another fighter in an interim title fight at UFC 148, his odds at another title shot becomes exponentially greater. A high profile loss to a replacement fighter without a title on the line sets him back significantly as well, obviously, but a shot at an interim title counts as much as for supremacy of the division properly. Holding an interim title in the UFC generally is the fastest way to get a title shot properly. Shane Carwin and Randy Couture famously took interim titles en route to challenging for the true championship; Carlos Condit is holding on to his until Georges St. Pierre knows whether or not he can defend it this year.
For Faber, an interim title in the UFC is something that enhances an already legendary career. Being a former champion, even if only interim, still holds weight when it comes to things like his long term legacy. Faber has been one of the top pound for pound fighters in the world for quite some time, as well as a top five fighter in two divisions. He could potentially be a top featherweight contender if he stayed at that weight class, which he did until Jose Aldo chased him from the division, and at Bantamweight he and Dominick Cruz are the clear two top fighters in the division.
The fact that Faber has been so successful in two divisions is a credit to his ability to fight above and at his natural weight. It takes talent to be a top fighter in any division, but the ability to do so in two is rare. And from a marketing standpoint Faber is the type of fighter the UFC could want; he’s charismatic, loves to do media and has a first rate athletic background. Women love him, too, and he was high profile enough in his WEC days to garner some solid endorsements despite not being in the top promotion in the world due to circumstance. He’s the type of fighter that you want to be front and center, preferably as a champion. But here’s the thing.
If he loses to either Renan Barao or Michael MacDonald, the two names bandied about as replacements for Cruz, another title shot might not happen for a long time if ever.
The one downside to having had as many title shots after losing the featherweight title is that in the future a title shot will be much more difficult. So far Faber has lost four straight title shots: outside of his controversial loss to Cruz for the bantamweight title he’s lost two to Michael Brown and one to Jose Aldo for the featherweight title. With four straight title losses on the docket, a fifth makes him that much tougher to justify in a title shot. The division is shallow enough that a second challenge to Cruz can be justified but not a third. That’s what ultimately the Cruz fight represented for Faber: potentially his last chance at wearing UFC gold around his waist. And a loss in a high profile fight against someone like Barao or MacDonald sets him back even further.
It makes whomever he faces at UFC 148 into one thing for the “California Kid” and former WEC stalwart: a must win.
Faber has to walk out of UFC 148 with a victory or another title shot might not happen. With bantamweight just starting to load up on talent, Faber is closer to the end of his career than the beginning. There are only so many title fights you can get before it becomes nearly impossible to promote another title fight. With Cruz out for a significant amount of time, UFC 148 is a good time to create an interim title. You have a star-making opportunity based on the main event grudge match between Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen. If anyone deserves to get this sort of opportunity on this card it’s Faber; he’s forever a pioneer of the lower weight classes and one of the best fighters casual fans don’t know much about.
With one of the biggest audiences of the year tuning in for Silva/Sonnen 2, Faber and whoever steps in for Cruz will be the co-main event of the year. It’ll be the biggest audience for a title fight of this weight class, the biggest title fight for any weight class under 155 since Aldo/Hominick was the co-main underneath GSP/Shields at UFC 129. And for Urijah Faber it’s a must win; without Dominick Cruz opposite him in the cage the stakes become greater because now he has to keep winning to get his trilogy fight with Cruz for the UFC bantamweight title. A loss here, when it means the most, sets him back to a place he was in after the Aldo fight for the featherweight title in the WEC: on the outside of the title picture, looking in for some time.