Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Urijah Faber is aware there's a lot on the line as he prepares to coach against Dominick Cruz in the upcoming season of 'The Ultimate Fighter'. As he inches closer to what is arguably his last real opportunity at a UFC title, Faber's fighting career - and how it will be judged when he's done competing - feels impossible to consider beyond his strained relationship to his top rival.
Faber, however, rejects the idea his rivalry with Cruz is the defining issue of his career. The questions surrounding his rivalry are necessary conditions of the show and his career right now, but they are not sufficient by themselves. Faber's got more on his mind. Can the bantamweights carry the most important show in MMA and the subsequent pay-per-view where the coaches will fight? Will they be able to honor the live format with strong coaching? How can they navigate reality television without presenting a cheap facsimile of their true personality?
In this interview with MMA Fighting, Faber makes his case for why performance against Cruz does not define his career, what he views as coaching best practices, how he plans to adapt his camp to the reality show's needs, why the Dakota Cochrane situation is 'weird', and why this reality show is all a part of his plan to live a life of fulfillment and fun.
Full audio and partial transcription below:
Luke Thomas: I'm doing well. Urijah, you're about to embark on something that's actually never been done before in the sport. You'll be coaching a team, doing a reality show and preparing for what I think is arguably the biggest fight of your life. Is that too much to ask of a person?
Urijah Faber: I don't think so. It's par for the course. I've been in the sport for a long time and this is a big opportunity for me I feel like.
Luke Thomas: Do you mind having such a significant and large portion of your career in some ways, not in total obviously, but in some ways defined by your relationship to an arch rival?
Urijah Faber: I don't think so. Every fight that has come up on the horizon was a biggest fight at the time. It was a huge fight when I fought Jens Pulver. It was a huge fight when I fought Mike Brown. It was a huge fight when I fought Jose Aldo. It might be the other way around for Cruz, but I think it's kind of the opposite for me.
Luke Thomas: What do you believe, because you think you're a lot more notable figure than he?
Urijah Faber: I'm just saying, I've been in these situations before where it's been heavily promoted and yeah, I would say more people know my name than his and I fought big names before like a guy that was a former UFC champ and the current 145 pound champ. I've had big fights before. I don't think my career has been defined by this rivalry, although it is right now in this moment.
Luke Thomas: Where would you rank this rivalry in terms of the chapters of your career? What would you say were the more important ones than this rivalry?
Urijah Faber: I don't think there's any that were really more important. This is the most relevant, it's the most now. It's the one that's the peak of my career right so as of right now, this is the most important one.
Luke Thomas: Let's talk about who's gonna actually be there in Las Vegas with you. Can you tell me who you're bringing along as part of your team?
Urijah Faber: I'm bringing my Alpha Male coaches, the guys that train our team every day along with a lot of our teammates and that's going to include Master Thong, who's one of the best stand-up trainers in the world, Fabio Prado, Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Dustin Akbari who's an all-around MMA guy but also a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. I've got Lance Palmer who's a four time All-American and NCAA finalist and Chad Mendes who's a national finalist as well to help with wrestling. I've got Justin Buchholz who does a lot of our team practices and is good with a lot of the conditioning stuff in addition to being a great mind for coaching and I'll be bringing a lot of guest coaches. I've talked to Phil Nurse, Mark Dellagrotte, Duke Roufus as far as the stand-up goes, probably Mark Munoz and we'll see who else comes along.
Luke Thomas: In boxing, you see a lot of the grandfather types that coach a prospect or talent, they center on one guy but in MMA, it's just more peer-based and the reality show will follow this model. Do you think that's the best model for MMA or do you think MMA could learn a little bit from the boxing way of doing things?
Urijah Faber: I think the sport's so new right now and everything is on the cutting edge so we're just mapping out the blueprint for this thing now and the guys who were in it and have been in it and have helped create the best ways to train are all young. There's always a lot ot be learned and you can get it from old guys and young guys and guys who are great or guys that are not that great. You can always learn stuff. There's a little bit of both in our camp. Master Thong has trained six boxing world champs and he's trained Buakaw Por Pramuk who's a kickboxing world champ and now he's got a stable of guys who are world champs, former world champs or contenders so he's a guy who's been a lifetime coach. It's the same thing with the other guys I'm bringing in. This is what these guys do for a living. The sport's changing, evolving and getting better.
Luke Thomas: What makes a good coach? And by that, I mean good principles to live by. Articulate for me what the best coaching philosophy is and the one you plan to work by.
Urijah Faber: First and foremost is accountability. You want to make sure these guys are accountable and give them some structure and then providing a lot of new techniques so they can always be learning and making sure you can understand that everyone's an individual and people are different. Having an open mind. I think the guy that doesn't want any coaches around is the guy that's insecure. There's always stuff to be learned and there's so many different specialists that it's hard for me to see a great coach, someone that doesn't want anyone else around.
Luke Thomas: Talk to me about something a little bit more specific, like cornering somebody. What is your philosophy on cornering somebody and in this case, a specific kind of somebody, a prospect or someone very new in his MMA career. Is less more? What are the best practices there?
Urijah Faber: Everyone's different. Some guys respond well while they're fighting and other guys are going 1000 miles per hour and don't pay attention. It really depends on the individual. Some guys like to have things reminded to them. As far as the coaching standpoint while you're in the corner, I like to do "the hay is in the barn" type of approach. You have things you can remind them of and you can give them introspection or an outside point of view in between rounds of what you think they can improve on or what they're doing well. The preparation is done in practice.
Luke Thomas: Let's move if we can a little bit onto Dominick Cruz. You've had two fights with him and you're about to have a reality show with him and I know you're probably sick of the guy in some ways. Have you learned everything about Dominick Cruz that you can? Is there really anything left besides minor details that you don't know about this guy?
Urijah Faber: I don't really know the details of his family life or how he was raised or anything. He talked about how he lived in a trailer or something like that, a motor home. That's about the extent that I know. It seems like he comes from a supportive mother and I've seen the countdown shows and that's about all I know.
Luke Thomas: Do you care to learn any more about him? By that, I mean do you think learning more about him, and not just his family life but what makes him tick I suppose, does that inform your judgement about how to prepare for him or is it strictly his technique?
Urijah Faber: I'll definitely look at any way I can to have an advantage and I'll keeping my eye on him and if there is a way to learn something new and exploit it, I will. Who knows? It's gonna be such a new process for me. It's gonna be something that I can't really predict how everything is gonna go and I'm just gonna enjoy the process and do my best and look to win.
Luke Thomas: Have you thought about, obviously the training camp will continue after the show is over and you'll compete at UFC 148 it's rumored at least on July 7th but you will have some training time there right next to him. Will that be awkward? Is there a way for you to shield what you're doing so he can't see it? Have you made any preparations about training there so you either do or don't interact with him?
Urijah Faber: Not really made any preparations but the bottom line is the best guys in the world, you know what they've got and you're not able to stop it. A guy like Jose Aldo, it's no secret the guy has good leg kicks, right? But can you stop them and will they be effective? GSP has a great takedown. There's all these things that the great guys have so I don't worry too much about him seeing what I'm doing. If I can avoid the guy, that would be great. We don't get along and we're gonna be in each other's face and we're gonna be visualizing beating the other person. I'm curious about how much we're actually gonna have to interact. I'll probably see the guy every day. We're gonna be passing each other every day so that's gonna be kind of new but other than that, I'm just gonna do my thing.
Luke Thomas: Do you believe that a Rampage/Rashad type of insane animosity is ultimately distracting?
Urijah Faber: I think it can be if you let it but I'm prepared for anything and I'm not gonna let being in close quarters going to affect my attitude or my training but I'm sure it's gonna be something that is a factor. We're both gonna have to deal with it. Who's it gonna get to? I don't think it'll be me.
Luke Thomas: You believe you won the last fight. It was obviously very close no matter how you judge it and even though you believe you won, the performance can be improved upon even if it may be a little difficult to figure out in the eyes of the judges. I'll just ask you plainly, what do you need to do this next time that you dind't do the last time to ensure a victory against Dominick Cruz?
Urijah Faber: Well, the easiest thing to do would be to finish the fight. It takes it out of the judges completely and aside from that, I need to score more points. As weird as it sounds, I think my hair being loose as it was made a little bit of an impact, my hair flopping around all the time and it made things look a little worse than others. I'll make sure to have a short haircut and he had a lot more takedown attempts so maybe try a little more takedown attempts and just get hit less and hit more. It wasn't the gameplan to throw more punches, it was to be more effective with my punches so maybe I'll have to do both.
Luke Thomas: Did you see anything in his fight with Demetrious Johnson that maybe lit off a bulb in your head or gave you an idea about something different you could do?
Urijah Faber: Not in particular. You're dealing with way different fighters there. Demetrious Johnson and I are not the same guy and what I saw was when Dominick's getting outstruck, he goes for takedowns. He was able to do that with Demetrious and control him but he's not going to be able to do that with me. I plan on outstriking him, outgrappling him and just beating him all the way around.
Luke Thomas: The live model, you're one of the first coaches to be a part of this. It's a hell of a validation of your career and of course the bantamweight division but I guess I'll ask you what you think about it. What do you think it says that they chose you and Dominick Cruz as the first two coaches for the live format, in part obviously it is a matter of timing but there's more to it than that. What else is there to it?
Urijah Faber: I think the sport is all about great performances and Dominick and I are both guys that fight to the bitter end and this is a great time to push the most exciting weight classes into the limelight. People will only know what they're exposed to and they haven't had as much time to get acquainted with the lighter weight fighters so this is gonna be a huge opportunity for them to fall in love with the weight class and I'm proud to be the guy to bring this to them and I'm gonna make sure that everybody enjoys this season and really loves the fight.
Luke Thomas: Do you feel any obligation to honor that live format with extra effort or theatrics or anything else you can do to really make sure it pops on live TV?
Urijah Faber: I'm just gonna be myself and I'll try to keep it interesting. That's the one thing I want to do is stay true in this whole process. You don't want to come off as somebody that you're not. I feel that I'm an interesting enough guy and I like to have fun and I don't take crap from anyone so that all makes for good stuff when you're posing against someone like Dominick who's kind of in a lot of ways, the same way. He doesn't put on a front. He is who he is and he doesn't like to take crap from anyone. It's gonna be confrontational and it's gonna be entertaining.
Luke Thomas: Is there a previous coach from The Ultimate Fighter who's success you'd like to pattern yourself after?
Urijah Faber: I can't remember what kind of success that the different coaches had. I don't remember who won or anything like that. There's some great guys off of there. I think GSP did a great job. I think Randy Couture did a good job. There's a couple others. Everyone I think did a good job. I think everyone generally wanted their team to win and put forth an effort and that's the best you can do in the situation.
Luke Thomas: A lot has been made and I'm sure you're sick or hearing about it. A lot has been made of this Dakota Cochrane situation. Does his background particularly concern you? How do you feel about it?
Urijah Faber: I think it's weird first of all. The guy supposedly was going after money but I was doing research on these guys and when you pop in his name, there's a bunch of pictures of his gay porn stuff so I don't really feel sorry for the guy. He put himself in this situation but the bottom line is this about the best fighter. If he's the best fighter, it doesn't really matter what he's done before or after or anything. I don't have to agree with what he does but the bottom line is he worked hard to become good at something that's very tough so you've got to respect that.
Luke Thomas: What is your impression of this season's cast and have you had a sense to evaluate them a little more up close?
Urijah Faber: I haven't had a chance to really get to know the guys yet but I've seen quite a few of them, I've seen some of their interviews and stuff like that and it sounds like there's some characters and it sounds like there's some real talent so I don't think all the guys with character are the ones with a ton of talent and vice versa. There's a good mix in there and it's gonna be interesting for sure and I'm looking forward to finding more about these guys.
Luke Thomas: Obviously you want to beat Team Cruz and you want to beat Dominick Cruz this summer but more than that, do you have goals for this show, goals for your business, goals for the way you want to represent yourself, goals for your team. Are there personal goals you have in mind that you'd like to be able to check off on a list when this is all over?
Urijah Faber: I haven't written out a goals list for this show yet but there are some things off the top of my head I could say. First and foremost, I want to be real. I want people to know who I am and if they want to support after that, that's up to them. I'm gonna do my best to be as candid and as real as possible and have fun in the process. I think that this whole lifestyle, the job choice, everything about my career has been at the helm of having a good time. It's about enjoying what I'm doing and enjoying the day and I want to make this process the same.
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