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Urijah Faber's 'attitude of gratitude' led to turnaround and title shot

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Esther Lin

Urjiah Faber's head check came not long after his UFC 149 loss to Renan Barao.

"The California Kid" said his mind wasn't in the right place leading into the UFC interim bantamweight title fight, which he lost via unanimous decision. And he heard the chatter about how he wasn't supposed to get another title shot any time soon.

At that point, the former WEC featherweight champion decided it was time for a change.

" I have to have an attitude of gratitude and not miss opportunities," Faber said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "And that's what my 2013 was about, and that was my biggest difference with the rest of my fights you've seen since then and the one you're going to see on Feb. 1."

As anyone who follows MMA could tell you, Faber had a killer 2013, winning four fights and putting himself back within shouting distance of a title shot. That opportunity came sooner than expected, when Dominick Cruz had to pull out of his bout with Barao at UFC 169 and relinquish his title.

Faber was just weeks removed from his finish of Michael McDonald at UFC on FOX 9, but he wasn't about to say no when UFC president Dana White made the call.

"I'm in a meeting and when Dana calls you stop whatever you're doing, so I had to excuse myself," Faber said. "I figure it was good news, it was on a Sunday. Dana was like, here's the situation, Dominick is screaming, he's really hurt himself, he's going to the hospital right now. He's out we're 90 percent sure. Are you ready to step in in like three and a half weeks, and I'm like man, you know? Not the ideal situation but I'm not one to step away from an opportunity."

That opportunity, of course, came about because of Cruz's misfortune, as yet another injury caused him to have to step out in what was supposed to be his comeback fight after a two-year absence. The two, who own victories over one another, have a rivalry that is based on a level of respect, though the two aren't friends.

"It's unfortunate, I don't wish any harm on that guy at all," Faber said. "As far as our relationship, it's kind of a weird one, we actually have some communication at time, are cordial to each other, and don't like each other very much. It's a competitive thing, I want to fight him, he wants to fight me. I don't wish that on anyone."

Faber revealed on The MMA Hour that Cruz reached out to him via text after his injury.

"He just said that he was pretty heartbroken by all his injuries and that I had a great year, and he'll be back, may the best man win," Faber said. "I was going to reach out to him but he got to me first. I said heal up so we can fight, man. And I said yeah, I will."

In the meantime, Faber is focusing on Barao. He explained his mindset heading into the first fight and why he needed to change his attitude.

"Probably the least excited I'd ever been for a fight," Faber said of UFC 149. "There's a lot more to it that I really care to go into, it was at the end of a rough year for me with my sister and some other things in my family, so I was looking forward to after big fight on July 4th to be able to contribute more to my family, monetary value of my fight changed dramatically, the size and the meaning of the fight was so much different.

"I had put four months not fighting to being on biggest card of the year to fighting Dominick Cruz in Las Vegas," Faber continued, "Then they pulled me out and put me on this other card no one cared about, and the supporting cast as not there for that fight as well, it was a pay-per-view and I realized after that fight, I can't even think about that."

A year and four fights later, it's clear Faber's put such thoughts behind him as he ponders what's changed between him and Barao.

"He's definitely better," Faber said. I don't see things tremendously different. But he's getting more confidence, more experience, he's the type of guy, he's a world champion. Being the guy with that type of mentality of training and getting better, has to get better a little or he's getting worse. No one's beat him so I'd say he's getting better."

And how will this fight be different?

"I think biggest key is not letting him control the fight and the speed and the distance of the fight," he said. "He did a really great job last time controlling pace of the fight.He was able to slow me down, he's a fast paced fighter, he able to control distance and reach and his weapons."