Four years ago he was the biggest star in the WEC, the UFC's little brother promotion. He was the featherweight champ riding a 5 title defense streak, including a win over UFC legend Jens Pulver that broke 1 million viewers. The most watched fight ever for the WEC. More than any of that, he was the California Kid.
Then he lost his title to Mike Brown. Then he lost the rematch, breaking both his hands in the process and fighting only with his elbows for 3 rounds. Then Mike Brown lost the title and Faber got a chance to fight the new champ, Jose Aldo, on the WEC's first pay-per-view. He lost that fight too, so brutally that photos of his blackened and swollen legs horrified web surfers for weeks afterward. But the PPV was a surprising success, notching 175,000 PPV buys and helping convince the UFC to absorb the WEC's smaller divisions.
So he cut down a division, dropping 10 pounds from featherweight's 145lb limit to the bantamweight 135lb limit. Two wins later he got another title shot. At UFC 132 he lost a close decision to Dominick Cruz but they co-headlined the event and performed well on PPV.
Still he hadn't looked like the California Kid of old in a long time. Maybe even years. His wins were often decisions, marked by tactical cautiousness and a disheartening tendnecy to fight not to lose rather than to win.
Not Saturday. At UFC 139, Faber resurrected the California Kid in a brilliant performance against Brian Bowles. He did it all in his inimitable old style. Faber used speed and pressure to get Bowles off balance, then he hurt him with a variety of unconventional strikes: knees, elbows, punches. Combine with a lethal guillotine choke to cap off the beat down and the California Kid was back.
No sooner had his hand been raised then Faber was calling out Cruz for a rubber match (he beat Cruz back in 2007), commenting on his greasy widow's peak and talking about making money together.
Some have complained that Faber has had too many title shots since 2007 -- he's had 3 and lost them all -- but I wager that the UFC and its fans will be eager to see him make one more run at the belt.
The San Jose crowd, reinforced by many fans from Faber's neighboring home town of Sacramento couldn't have been more pleased at their idol's revival.