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Takeya Mizugaki: Bout Against Urijah Faber as Big as a Title Fight

Takeya MizugakiLAS VEGAS – It's hard to get a bigger stage than a title fight, but as far as Takeya Mizugaki is concerned, his fight against Urijah Faber at WEC 52 on Thursday is just as big.

Mizugaki is just 18 months removed from his WEC debut, a bantamweight title fight against then-champ Miguel Torres in Torres' Chicago backyard. Though he lost a unanimous decision, he was the first fighter to ever take Torres five rounds.

Mizugaki (13-4-2, 2-2 WEC) is 2-1 since that loss to Torres, losing to top bantamweight contender Scott Jorgensen by decision last December and winning decisions over Jeff Curran and Rani Yahha – though many observers thought Curran beat him. He finds himself back on the big stage, main eventing against the company's poster boy, who is dropping down from featherweight to fight at 135 pounds for the first time.

"To me, this fight is as big as when I fought Miguel Torres for the WEC (bantamweight) title," Mizugaki said through his translator, Shu Hirata, Tuesday at The Palms in Las Vegas. "I feel like I'm challenging Urijah because he's one of the stars of the WEC, so this is almost the same value as a title fight."

And though his fight with Torres put him on the radar for many MMA fans who hadn't heard of the import from Japan, Mizugaki seems to want what most fighters want – the attention of the fans.

"I think the popularity of Urijah Faber overseas is almost the same level as the UFC top fighters," Mizugaki said. "In Japan, I believe MMA fans all know who Urijah Faber is. For me to win this fight means my value will go up in America, Japan and everywhere in the world."

Mizugaki also gets the task of being Faber's first test at bantamweight – meaning much attention is being paid to the former featherweight champ's new weight class and ambitions for a title in a second division and less attention to Mizugaki.

Mizugaki believes he may have an inherent edge in Thursday's bout because of Faber's cut to 135 for the first time in MMA – though Faber is quick to point out he wrestled in college at 133 pounds.

"By cutting down to 135, I expect Urijah's strength to be a little bit less than when he was at 145," Mizugaki said. "More than anything, by cutting to 135 I think he's going to have a little problem with his stamina. Of course, we don't know what's going to happen – but that's what I'm hoping to see."

For his part, Faber said he's not worried.

"I haven't seen any drawbacks," the Sacramento-based fighter said. "We'll just see when we get in the cage how it all pans out."

Mizugaki mentioned repeatedly Thursday his desire to increase his popularity with the American fans – and he believes that's especially important now that he'll be fighting under the UFC umbrella after this bout with Faber.

He knows a win over Faber would put plenty of attention on him at just the right time, which is why he was willing to wait when Faber had to pull out of the pair's planned WEC 50 fight in August with a knee injury.

"For me, that gave me more time to train and more time to study Urijah. So that's a real good part of (the postponement)," Mizugaki said. "Of course I want to fight Urijah. But secondly, I thought that Urijah is the type of fighter that would be worth the wait for me."

And even though the WEC gold eluded him in his U.S. debut against Torres, he hopes a win over Faber on Thursday will start his climb toward what he really wants.

"My goal is one thing: to become a UFC champion," Mizugaki said. "I don't think about anything else but to get that title."

WEC 52 airs live on the Versus cable network Thursday at 9 p.m. Eastern from The Pearl at The Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.

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