For Scott Jorgensen, it all started with a T-shirt. He had admired mixed martial arts from afar, but when he visited a King of the Cage show in Reno in the fall of 2005 and saw Urijah Faber wearing a shirt with his own name on it, that was about the coolest thing he had ever seen. He had known Faber in college, where they were both Division I wrestlers who had shared the mat together a time or two, and now here his friend was with his own shirt? When he asked about it, Faber told him he should try fighting. There was money to be made, and it was fun. Within a few months, Jorgensen turned pro.
The two have stayed friends through the years. Faber helped get Jorgensen a spot in an EliteXC card that paved the way for his WEC invitation. For a time, they trained together at Faber's Team Alpha Male. Faber has also visited Jorgensen's hometown of Boise to train with him.
That is the backdrop of their main event fight at The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale. That is what's known, the past. But there is also what's hidden. Despite their friendship, Jorgensen, now 30 years old, wants some of what Faber has.
Faber has built himself a little empire. He owns homes and gyms. He's an author and entrepreneur. He's also one of the only lighter weight fighters capable of moving the needle. When he competes, people are interested. They see him as a star.
There is some belief out there that his star is fading. Though his face is still boyishly young, he is 33 years old. He hasn't managed a winning streak of more than two straight since 2008. He has lost five title fights in a row. Yet he also refuses to fall out of the title picture. He hasn't lost to a non-champion in almost eight years. It almost seems like there are three levels to the division: the champion, Faber, and everybody else.
Jorgensen (14-6) is the latest to try and scale the last obstacle on the way to fighting for a belt. He's a sizable underdog in the fight, +350 or so on most books.
Tapping into his wrestling background, Jorgensen uses that base as the foundation for his fighting style. He's never been the cleanest or most diverse striker, and with only two knockouts in 20 career fights, he doesn't have huge, fight-changing power. Instead, it's mostly about managing the distance and finding a way inside for the power double. If it comes, he is adept at top control, ground and pound, and occasionally passing guard. Witness, for example, how he mostly suffocated John Albert in his last fight, a grappling-heavy bout that ended in a first-round rear naked choke submission victory. If the takedown doesn't come, he is content to firefight from the outside or dirty box from the clinch. If it doesn't, he doesn't own quite as many weapons as Faber does.
That's why Jorgensen's wrestling is likely the key factor of the fight. And for all of his collegiate credentials -- he was a three-time Pac 10 champion and three-time National tournament qualifier -- his takedown numbers are somewhat surprising. According to FightMetric, he's only been successful on 47 percent of his attempts. That number is markedly better than Faber's 29 percent, but in a fight where it's probably imperative for him to get it to the ground, he'll be the one who needs to be sharper.
Faber's takedown defense number -- 57 percent -- does not look great, either, but if you go further inside the numbers, you will see that Mike Brown and Dominick Cruz combined for 13 takedowns against him. Aside from that, his other opponents have only scored two combined takedowns in his most recent 10 fights.
If the fight is mostly standup, Faber (27-6) should have the advantage. While FightMetric's numbers show that Jorgensen lands at a slightly higher rate (40 percent to 38 percent), I would suggest that number is skewed by his higher proportion of ground strikes. On the feet, Faber has a wider array of attacks, from his kicking game to his spinning elbows to an educated jab and straight right. He is also faster and has a slight edge in power. Almost all of it plays in his favor.
It's also worth noting that Faber may be the one who decides to initiate the takedown. With 15 career submissions, he has always done some of his best work on the mat, where his uncanny ability to scramble often puts him in dominant positions where he's been able to tap black belts.
I think Faber has the edge in most categories. His speed should get it done on the feet, and his improvisational skills will come in handy on the ground. This is also one of those Faber fights where he is the bigger and longer fighter. In the night's headline fight, stamina should be no issue for either. Faber is used to five-round fights, and when Jorgensen went 25 minutes with champion Cruz, he threw exactly as many strikes in the last round as he did in the first.
At 33, Faber could be on the verge of something great or something catastrophic. A loss could mark the beginning of the end of his run as a top five fighter. Conversely, the bantamweight division is wide open for a top contender, and even after five straight failed attempts to go home with gold, it's there for the taking. The same opportunity is there for Jorgensen, but it will require something beyond what he's exhibited so far. With most of the key advantages going Faber's way, I'm picking the California Kid by third-round submission.