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Urijah Faber believes T.J. Dillashaw 'will probably finish' Dominick Cruz by knockout

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Urijah Faber is in a superb position. It's true he's failed to capture a UFC title since matriculating to the organization in 2011 from the WEC. He's had a few chances in the UFC alone, and participating in seven inside the WEC. So while his last win over Frankie Saenz at UFC 194 was surprisingly competitive and extremely hard fought, his status as the winner has put him in something of a cat bird seat.

UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw and former champ Dominick Cruz tangle this Sunday for the 135-pound title. Faber appears to be the prohibitive favorite no matter who wins, not merely because of his place at the top of the division or his fan appeal, generally, but also because of his special relationship to both competitors. Cruz is the long-time rival while Dillashaw occupies the space of teammate-turned-semi-rival. In either case, the championship would also be a grudge match.

"Appears" is the key word, however, since the UFC has not told Faber what plans they're interested in pursuing.

"Absolutely not," Faber said on Monday's The MMA Hour. "That's not how they roll. I can assume that and I'm prepared for that," he said. "It makes sense. That's what the fight people want to see. I've been at the top of the division for a very long time, and it would be a waste to not have that happen."

For 'The California Kid', he's willing to admit the bout between Dillashaw and Cruz will be competitive, but having fought Cruz twice and trained with Dillashaw for years, he argues the champion will retain his title.

"It's going to be an interesting match up," he noted. "I don't want to give away my insight on either guy, really, but I think it's going to be an interesting match-up. I think a couple of things could happen. I don't think it's going to be a one-sided affair in any way, shape or form. Of course, I haven't seen T.J. in the last few months, but over the last six and half years or so, I feel like I know enough about him to think he's going to win.

"I know Cruz can be elusive," Faber concedes, but not Dillashaw could be uniquely positioned to exploit Cruz's affinity for defense. "[Cruz]'s maybe one of the best defensive fighters out there, and T.J. is one of the best offensive guys out there, so it's going to be interesting."

Why does he lean toward Dillashaw? Faber just isn't convinced he does enough of the right things.

Faber claims Cruz isn't offensively potent, noting the former champ's first WEC stoppage came when opponent Brian Bowles lost via TKO at WEC 47 in March of 2010, but only because of a perceived broken hand, not from traditional forms of physical punishment. He is willing to concede Cruz is an excellent defensive talent, but not so great that he's impossible to hurt.

"Hopefully we've seen him put on a killer instinct over the years and he's more willing to step in, get nasty in there, but I think he's going to be pretty elusive. I think T.J. will find a way to connect with him," Faber claims.

"[Dominick] will be quick to talk about how he has a win over me, but they just played the fight, I think last night. It was just apparent to me that he's not that hard to hit. I've hit him a number of times and I've hit him clean on the chin, put him on his butt, my fist to his chin to his butt on three different occasions during our fight. I think T.J. will be able to do the same.

"I think he'll probably finish him," Faber says. "I think he'd probably knock him out."

Until then, it is safe to assume Cruz and Dillashaw will continue their noted war of words, one Cruz seems to relish more and perform better in the course of pre-fight banter. Faber, however, says that's not true and neither competitor necessarily comes off that well.

"Getting the better? Both of them look like duds," Faber contends. "Dominick seriously reminds me of a third grader who is throwing out little insults and running behind this school yard teacher. It's not that interesting. I just caught the little tidbit they had last time and it's like, these guys just look like they're irritating. Well, T.J. looks irritated, Dominick looks irritating.

"I'm not looking forward to hearing any of the talk," Faber says of being in Boston for their title fight. "I'm going to do my best to avoid it. I'll just speak my mind when my turn's up."

What he has been hearing, however, are some of the public comments Dillashaw has made of his former mentor and training partner. While neither has lashed out in the ugliest of ways, the comments have alluded to something more or been passive aggressive. For his part, Faber says he has nothing against Dillashaw personally and whatever frustration or alienation Dillashaw may feel are for reasons unrelated to him.

"Here's what happened. That guy gets bombarded. The whole Mystic Mac, Conor McGregor calls him a snake in the grass and made that thing, so he's getting harassed at all times, but I never said he was a snake in the grass. I never said anything," Faber argues. "Now, is he? That's up for argument. I never said anything about the guy except it didn't make sense to me he would turn his back on what got him to where he is. Perception is reality."

The former WEC featherweight champ in Faber reiterated on Monday that whatever the differences that exist between he and Dillashaw stem mostly from business with the team. Faber says Dillashaw wanted to represent his new team in Colorado, but train with Team Alpha Male in the off season. Faber claims when he told Dillashaw that arrangement wouldn't be possible, the champion became confused and, potentially, resentful.

"That's not the way a team works," Faber argues. "I'm not saying anything bad about the guy other than you can't do that."

None of this is to say certain comments from Dillashaw don't have a personal effect on Faber. The Team Alpha Male leader didn't name any one article in particular, but claimed the media narrative Dillashaw is only now benefitting from having a head coach is both fantasy and disrespectful to those who have allegedly served in those roles.

"Are you kidding me, man?" Faber asks about the claims of Dillashaw's coaching history. "Perception is reality. So, it's a big F U to all the coaches he's had throughout the years. The bottomline is I never said anything about the guy and he's upset because he's getting harassed because of his actions, but that's not my doing. That's the world observing and having their own reaction to things."

For now, Faber is biding his time. He'll be at the TD Garden in Boston when Cruz and Dillashaw finally meet. Whoever wins shouldn't matter a great deal for Faber to get another title shot, and he seems to calmly understand that. From that position of tranquility, though, Faber thinks he knows what's coming. He sees his former training partner and near-pupil retaining his strap, leaving him the room he needs to have his day in the cage to iron out their differences in the most violent of ways.

"I think this fight is going to be a fight between two great fighters and the best guy's going to win," Faber says. "I'm leaning towards T.J."

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