Time is running out for 'The California Kid', Urijah Faber, to win and hold a title. Faber faces bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz this weekend at UFC 132 in the main event for Cruz's belt. But at 32 years of age, it could be now or never for the Sacramento-native. Should he fail in his effort to snatch the title away from Cruz, there's little guarantee he'll still be young enough and close enough to his prime to even earn another title shot, much less be as competitive as he'll be this Saturday.
Much to his credit, Faber is fully aware of the stakes. He recognizes what this fight means for his career and eventual legacy in mixed martial arts. Despite already having won and held a championship title in MMA, Faber knows this rematch with Cruz will tell us more about his accomplishments and standing than any of his previous contests.
In this exclusive interview from MMA Nation on 106.7 The Fan, Faber opens up about what this fight means for his career, his plans for the future and why this fight will define the Urijah Faber legacy.
Full audio and transcription below:
Luke Thomas: With us right now on the McDonald's Hotline, he is headlining UFC 132, July 2nd at the MGM Grand Garden arena, it will be on Pay Per View and it's for the UFC bantamweight title. The former WEC featherweight champion of the world joins us, Urijah Faber. Urijah, how are you sir?
Urijah Faber: Doing good. How are you guys?
Luke Thomas: Doing very good. We're excited to have you on the air. We're excited to have you back on the show. I want to get your thoughts separately before we get into your fight with Dominick Cruz. Can we talk about Chris Leben on that UFC 132 conference call? Were you surprised by his candor in talking about how he didn't like fighting sometimes and how he didn't take Stann seriously? Were you surprised by his admissions?
Urijah Faber: About not taking Stann seriously, is that what you said?
Luke Thomas: Yeah. And then also admitting that sometimes he doesn't even like fighting.
Urijah Faber: I've known Leben from before he was on The Ultimate Fighter show. I went up to Oregon to train with Randy and those guys at Team Quest back in the day and he said it himself that he's full of issues. I think that's the best way to describe it. So I'm not surprised by anything that comes out of that guy's mouth. He's been through some hard times right before fights and stuff like that. He strikes me as kind of an emotional mess.
Luke Thomas: How do I ask this, do you believe that he's misunderstood?
Urijah Faber: No, I think he says it exactly how it is. He says it exactly how it is which is the reason why he fights, what he likes about it. Sometimes he gets nervous before it and I feel like he's a pretty brutally honest guy.
Luke Thomas: I also want to talk to you about someone else on the card who wasn't on the call but his absence from the call is alarming, Tito Ortiz, the Huntington Beach Bad Boy. He's had a career that I think a lot of people would be envious of but this does appear to be the end. Maybe it's not but it looks like it is. Do you believe that this is the last fight for Tito in the UFC, provided he loses which I think is likely?
Urijah Faber: You know, I don't know. I know he hasn't won in a long time. How long has it been since he won?
Luke Thomas: Five years, I think.
Urijah Faber: Couple years, but he's had some close fights with guys that are still going. He had a close fight with with Machida. He had a very close fight with Griffin. He had some really close fights with some really good guys and I feel like he can win this and keep on going. He can win a close one or lose a close one. I feel like he's the guy who's always going to be game. I don't think he's ever been finished other than by Chuck, right?
Luke Thomas: Yes, I think that's right.
Urijah Faber: So the guy is durable and I think that's kind of up to him, Dana [White], and Lorenzo [Fertitta]. I don't know how their relationship is but I'm not the guy to be answering that question, you'd have to ask them.
Luke Thomas: In the last year or so we've seen three of the best or at least some of the best the UFC has ever seen, Tito Ortiz appears to be on his way out. Liddell retired and Couture retired. But they both took some bad beatings towards the end of their fighting career. How hard is it to retire at the peak? How difficult is that to plan for? Can you do it? And who in your mind has retired successfully from combat athletics?
Urijah Faber: I would say that "Pretty Boy" Floyd has tried a couple times to retire successfully. Other than that, no. The reason we get into the fight game is the same reason why we stay too long sometimes. It's because we enjoy it. There's more than just the winning that's addictive. It's the regiment you put yourself through. It's what you become and what you know. It's hard to walk away from structure and something you're so familiar with. I don't know how many guys who are really retired. De la Hoya's a guy who's done an okay job, he probably could have stopped a fight or two away but I think the guys who have the financial standing to do it and have lost the desire are the guys who have retired at the right time.
Luke Thomas: I guess Joe Calzaghe would qualify as well. He went out on a seemingly high note too. Alright, let's talk about your fight with Dominick Cruz. It's a rematch. Let me ask you this and I want to be sensitive about it because I know that Joseph Benavidez tried tirelessly to win both of the fights he had with Dominick Cruz. What did Joseph not do, that you can learn from, that you have to do to defeat Dominick Cruz?
Urijah Faber: I would say first and foremost that in the second fight Joseph got the better of the standup. He lost because he was six takedowns to none and when the takedowns happen, it wasn't anything dominating happening from the takedown from Dominick but Joseph didn't do anything in retaliation. He didn't reverse position. He didn't come close to any submission attempts. I would say the thing that lost him the fight was being taken down and losing points by that front. Other than that, Joseph did a pretty good job but Dominick walking around outside the ring, I've been around both of them, is about 10 pounds roughly larger than Joseph and I am also. I think there's a size different there and Joseph is really strong and explosive. I think that if he really wanted to, he could make 125 pounds which is completely out of the question for me, it is completely out of the question for Dominick Cruz. I think I have to connect with punches and not get hit by all of his stuff and not get outpointed on the grappling.
Luke Thomas: The UFC recently announced that they would have a Flyweight or 125 pound division, do you think that Joseph Benavidez will make a move down there when they open that up?
Urijah Faber: You know, I think he'd be the number one contender right away or he'd be the guy for the title shot. It shouldn't be hard for him to not pass that up but Joseph has spent a lot of time putting weight on and to be honest with you, he's so tough. I think he's ranked number two or three in the world at 135 pounds so I don't know if he'd jump down there right away but it would always be an option for him if he decided to.
Luke Thomas: I want to talk a little bit more about Dominick Cruz's style. He's got a really good jab. He moves a lot. He leans over at the waist and he slips punches. Maybe it's just coincidence but I've been watching a lot of highlight reels for him and some of the footage that the UFC has been putting out as their official releases and there seems to be a lot of points where he'll chase guys down throwing hook after hook on opposite sides, in other words no straight punches whatsoever. Why is it that guys don't seem to be taking advantage of his aggression in the pocket throwing some really wide hooks?
Urijah Faber: You know, what he does is he throws some straight punches but his body is not right behind it. It's not like he's standing and throwing a straight punch. One of his best punches is a straight right that he runs off to the side. It's a straight punch if you look at the actual punch but his body is way out of the way. So although it looks like it's a lot of crazy stuff that he's doing out there, there's quite a few things that are regimented. He moves the same direction quite a bit. He throws the same combos after jabs. He ends with low kicks. He throws a lot of right hand-right kick combos and does the same motion that he switches to a body shot, a head shot, a low kick. There's a real method to his madness and I've seen a ton of his tapes, I've been in the corner when he's fought, I've fought him, so I'm pretty savvy to what he's doing.
Luke Thomas: Do you believe it's fair to characterize this fight with Dominick Cruz given what's at stake, given what it could do for you, that this is a legacy defining fight for you?
Urijah Faber: I think so. I don't plan on going anywhere win, lose, or draw but I plan on winning and I plan on adding that to my list of accomplishments and going on a run and being a defending champion. Then having super fights after that. Right now my body feels incredible, my technique keeps getting better and better, I'm evolving, and at this new weight I feel great so I'm just excited for the future man. This is the first step in a new direction.
Luke Thomas: This is the third fight for you at Bantamweight. First time around you made the cut and won. Second time around you made the cut and won. But I believe the first time, I think we spoke to you before the Mizugaki fight, and the cut was a bit of a concern. Third time around, how does it feel this time? I mean you haven't started the official cut for the last amount of weight but how is it different this time from the previous two cuts?
Urijah Faber: The difference is that I know exactly what I weight gets up to. It's kind of a question, when I get extremely heavy, at the heaviest when I'm trying to put on weight I can get up to 157. When I'm in great shape I sit around at 153.5 to 151 and then I get an idea of what my body goes up to right after weigh ins. You don't really know about that, how your body is gonna stack the weight back on. Now I know that both times it's gone right back to the same thing and so I can kind of stay at that weight through all my training and not worry about having to train at a lighter weight because you don't want to put yourself through abuse at a lighter weight if you're gonna be fighting at a heavier weight. Now I know where my body goes and where it feels most comfortable and I can just train all the way through at that weight.
Luke Thomas: How scientific do you have to be? Are you so comfortable with the process that you know "on Wednesday out, I have to weight in in 48 hours, I should be at this weight, I can have this much to eat, I can drink this much water", do you just know that naturally or do you have to make a notebook, measure it, it has to be real precise deadlines...how comfortable are you with that end of the process?
Urijah Faber: Man, in college I was like an anorexic chick just on point. Everything was about my weight. I was making 133 pounds for six months out of the year. I'd go to my practices, I'd eat, and then go for a run afterwards. Having a 24 hour weigh in where you only have to weight in once every couple of months, it's not too bad but I still obsess about it a little bit. I document how much I weigh in the morning, after lunch, if I'm by a scale I'll weigh in and write it down to get a gauge and take a peek at it. I'm able to eat pretty much what I want. I stay full, I just don't overdo it. I'm not trying to actively gain weight anymore like I was at 45. It's a lot easier.
Luke Thomas: So you're headlining this fight at UFC 132 on July 2nd. It's the first time the UFC has allowed a bantamweight fight to headline a major pay per view card. Does it concern you that you have to reach a certain level of pay per view buys, a certain level of success in order to validate having Bantamweights take the top of the bill?
Urijah Faber: That doesn't concern me. These guys know what they're doing. I think if you look at a lot of the guys who have been on pay per view cards in main events and have been big draws, you can look at little gauges like Twitter followers and Facebook followers and how recognizable they are. They have the gauge for that with the pay per view with the WEC so these guys know what they're doing. I'm not worried about it. I'm just gonna go out there and entertain the fans and get that belt.
Luke Thomas: You were with the WEC for a long time, I know the position is kind of different, but do you feel like the guys in Strikeforce probably feel like you guys in the WEC used to feel?
Urijah Faber: Probably a little bit. The bottom line is they're probably stoked first off to be part of the Zuffa team because Zuffa's incredible as far as how they treat the fighters, the promotion they do, and everything alongside being part of the best organization in the world but are still a little bit like "alright, when are we gonna get the full notoriety?" It's something that needs to happen for some of these guys. You're already seeing guys like Mayhem Miller that jumped over and Jake Shields and all these different guys been Strikeforce key guys that they're saying "alright, let's just use them over here". I think they're ready to make the jump and we'll see what happens.
Luke Thomas: You seem like a really positive guy, you always seem mostly happy and looking forward to the future. Is there anything that I dunno, keeps you up at night, is a way to describe it but is there anything in your career that you actively worry about?
Urijah Faber: Jeez, not really man. I'm not really good at worrying. I think I get that from my pops. He can be in some really dire straights and be a real optimist so I don't sweat the petty stuff. On occasion it's rough for me to sleep because I have a lot of things on my mind so I'll need to get a little more sleep sometimes. I'm up late because I've got a lot of energy and a lot of things on my mind all the time and I'm up early cause I've got things to do so that's the only thing. That's how I like it, I like to be busy.
Luke Thomas: Okay Urijah, before I let you go, a couple more questions. First of all, who do you like: Wanderlei Silva or Chris Leben? That's the co-main event on the card you're competing on. Break that down, it seems like a pick ‘em, flip a coin kind of fight. Who do you like in that one and why?
Urijah Faber: Jeez, that's gonna be a knockdown, drag out...you know, I think Wanderlei's been progressing over the years. I think that Stann's a guy that's been improving a lot in a short period of time and he was able to outclass Leben. I'm gonna go with Wanderlei in this one. I like his attitude, both of these guys have great attitudes but like he's a guy that knows how to win and I think it's kind of playing with fire getting into a knockdown, drag out with Wanderlei. Same thing with Leben but more so with Wanderlei.
Luke Thomas: And then about Bader-Ortiz, do you believe that Tito Ortiz has a chance against Ryan Bader?
Urijah Faber: I believe he does have a chance but I mean which Ortiz shows up. Sometimes the guy trains his butt off and sometimes he's got other stuff going on. I mean him and Jenna are always tweeting their business out on Twitter and stuff like that. Hopefully he was able to have a good training camp and we get to see Tito of old coming out and wrecking shop but Bader's been doing a great job at improving. He's got that wrestling pedigree and he's had a stable mind over the past couple of years so I'm gonna give him the edge.
Luke Thomas: Sort of a different kind of question, we had Henry Cejudo on the show not too recently and he talked about making the move to MMA after the 2012 London games which I really hope he does. I saw a video he did with you at I believe your gym if I'm not mistaken. First of all, to what extent have you trained with him and if he did make the move at 125, you'd have to assume he'd be an unbelievable talent to have in mixed martial arts, right?
Urijah Faber: Oh, no doubt. That guy, being a champion is all about the mind and that guy has proven that he's got what it takes. He also has a real passion for boxing. He wanted to go in and become a boxer because he felt there was a better opportunity for money. The bottom line, that guy would be nails but he's still got a lot of learning to do. I mean we see all sorts of wrestlers make the jump to Mixed Martial Arts and especially a guy like that, is gonna believe in himself to the utmost. You face another guy like Joseph Benavidez that believes in himself that has the years and the experience and a knack for fighting, he's gonna have his hands full. So definitely gonna be a force, most likely a champion if he decides to go at it full bore, but not for a while.
Luke Thomas: Before I let you go, you've been on a winning streak, that's how you got your title shot at Bantamweight in the first place but you are 32. Do you believe that you are still in your physical prime? I know you say you feel great but if you have to look at your performances, being your own worst critic, how do you feel about it? Are you still at peak performance in this stage of your athletic career?
Urijah Faber: I would say for sure. I don't know the research on the body of a 32 year old but I just turned 32 and I feel the strongest I've ever felt...I'm not a party animal. I've been fed the best stuff on the planet since the womb because my parents were religious health food nuts and man, I just feel incredible. I don't know when it's gonna drop off but I'm at the top of my game.
Luke Thomas: Well we're looking forward to it, you've got an incredible fight. It's gonna be July 2nd for the UFC Bantamweight title. It's not only a rematch, it's the main event. It's the first time it's happened in this kind of way. It's in Las Vegas, Nevada on pay-per-view starting at 9 pm ET. So Urijah Faber, thank you very much for being on MMA Nation and best of luck to you in your title aspirations.
Urijah Faber: Thank you, brother. Talk to you later.
Transcription services provided by Matthew Roth.