MMA legend Urijah Faber fought for the last time Saturday night, defeating Brad Pickett by unanimous decision in his hometown of Sacramento, California.
Although he never won a UFC title, Faber will without a doubt go down as one of the most important fighter’s in the history of MMA.
Think of the most popular fighter in MMA today in Conor McGregor. Now one could argue that his popularity grew long before winning the UFC Featherweight championship, but that’s when fans and peers started to take him serious.
The Featherweight division did not exist in the UFC 5 years ago. In fact it might not exist at all if it had not been for Urijah Faber.
When Faber entered the MMA in 2003, the UFC had just gotten rid of the Lightweight division. They flat out banned the 155 pound division. The UFC wasn’t as popular back then, but it’d still be a little concerning being a 5’5 135 pound Mixed Martial Artist back then.
Imagine being a Fullback and the NFL banning the position.
The UFC’s case was that smaller fighters just weren’t as popular as the bigger fighters.
Three years later the UFC brought back the lightweight division, but they still had no division below 155-pounds. It was right around this time that Faber slowly started to build momentum.
He was making a name for himself in the King of the Cage promotion where he was Bantamweight champion for several years. In 2006 he signed with the WEC and won the Featherweight championship. The UFC’s parent company ZUFFA coincidently bought the promotion that same year.
With the purchase of the WEC, ZUFFA wanted to focus attention on the lighter weight classes. The WEC had a featherweight and bantamweight division, two divisions that the UFC did not have. The WEC also had a deal with Versus (what would become NBC Sports.) This was a pretty big deal as it’d be the first time the lighter weight classes would be on cable TV.
Faber instantly became a sensation of sorts around 2007. He defended the title four times all via submission, including a guillotine against Dominick Cruz. Faber’s popularity plateaued in 2008 when he fought former UFC Lightweight champion Jens Pulver. Faber dominated Pulver en route to a unanimous decision victory.
The event’s broadcasted averaged 1.5 million viewers, something a bit unfathomable for Versus at the time.
When Faber fought, people watched. He had become a big star in the sport. That was a big deal, because it brought attention to a lot of fighters fans might not have seen before.
The undercard of Faber vs Pulver featured Jose Aldo, Dominick Cruz, and Donald Cerrone. Those are some of the biggest stars in the sport today.
It’s not to say that these guys owe their careers to Faber, but his popularity certainly paid dividends.
- Jose Aldo gained instant respect when he defeated Faber in 2010 in a PPV event. Today he’s one of the biggest stars in the sport.
- Mike Brown beat Faber twice, both of which earned him a lot of respect in the MMA community. Today he is the head trainer of American Top Team.
- Dominick Cruz’s rivalry with Faber made him a household name within the sport.
In 2010, the UFC announced it was merging with the WEC. In large part one could say it was because of Urijah Faber.
While he was no longer the dominant champion in the promotion, he absolutely put the promotion on the map. A lot of people know of or watched the WEC to see Faber fight.
Faber didn’t only do big things for the WEC, he really put his entire team on the map.
Faber opened Team Alpha in 2004. He went out and specifically recruited smaller fighters and groomed them along. Guys like Joseph Benavidez, Chad Mendes, and TJ Dillashaw became big stars out of the gym.
Today Team Alpha Male is one of the biggest gyms in the world. They feature a lot of UFC talent including Mendes, Paige Van Zant, Cody Garbrandt, Hector Sandoval, Josh Emmett, Andre Fili, and many more. But it’s not just about the current stars, the gym is also home to a lot of future stars, guys we have not even heard of yet.
Faber has built a college football program of sorts, and his mentorship has rubbed off on it’s fighters.
MMASucka reached out to Team Alpha Male’s undefeated amateur star Andrew Richardson on just that topic.
“Urijah Faber changed the game. Aside from holding the WEC title and challenging for the UFC belt a half dozen times, he is one of the first to really bring an entrepreneurial spirit into the MMA world.”
As Richardson said, it’s not just about Faber being such an amazing talent, but he’s also been an excellent role model. He has always had such great business sense, and it’s echoed to his teammates.
“Team Alpha Male and its success are certainly a part of that legacy, which helped change the city of Sacramento into an MMA hub,” Andrew added.
Richardson moved all the way from New Jersey to California to join the gym, and he’s not alone. Dozens of fighters have traveled from all around the world to Sacramento to join the gym.
Fighters want to come to Sacramento, they want that culture that Urijah Faber instilled.
Faber not only created a culture that gravitates to young talent, but they live the lifestyle. Every one of those fighters seem to have the same attitude and mindsets.
All these fighters look up to Faber, and they have learned from him. It’s not just about winning, but about training right, eating right, marketing right, and working hard.
Did Faber’s UFC career pan out the way he had hoped? No. He never won that vaunted UFC championship. It’s the one thing Faber never won, and it will certainly be a facet of conversation when discussing his career.
But we cannot let this impact the fact that Faber is one of the most important fighters in the history of MMA.
Whether it be as a fighter, coach, role model, or teammate, Faber will go down as a legend in the sport.