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Despite never winning UFC title, Urijah Faber leaves MMA with no regrets

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Urijah Faber will stroll off into the sunset on Dec. 17 after UFC on FOX 22, as Faber announced Monday that he intends to retire from mixed martial arts following his hometown fight against Brad Pickett in Sacramento, Calif.

The bout will signal an end to a remarkable 14-year run for Faber, one that saw him reign for years atop the WEC and play an integral role in growing the popularity of lighter-weight fighters in the sport. And though Faber never achieved his final goal of becoming UFC champion, he exits the fight game with a laundry list of accolades -- and, most importantly, zero regrets.

"At 32 (years old), they introduced my weight class for the first time in the UFC," Faber said Monday on The MMA Hour. "It was the same owners (as the WEC). It was Dana (White) and Lorenzo (Fertitta) and Burt (Watson) and everybody involved.

"At that time it was (Jose) Aldo and (Anthony) Pettis and on and on, and Demetrious (Johnson) and all these guys, Benson Henderson, these guys were all part of that (WEC) group. Cowboy (Cerrone) and the list goes on. I'm not fooled about it. I've had 14 years in this sport and my entire career has been at the top. I've had title shots. I've held the title for years and years. I don't worry about what somebody calls something. I know what it was. And I think, for me, I just am a very thankful guy. I really am."

While the UFC belt may have been his white whale, Faber is still widely considered to be one of the most important lighter-weight fighters of his era. He served as the poster boy of the WEC, reigning as the promotion's featherweight champion and headlining many of its most successful events at a time when the blue cage was the standard-bearer for weight classes below 155 pounds. That success carried over into the UFC as well, where Faber maintained his standing as one of the top-three fighters in his division until the waning days of his career, while also leading one of the most talent-rich squads in MMA with Sacramento's Team Alpha Male.

Through it all, Faber's consistency never wavered. He racked up a sterling 18-0 record in non-title fights until finally faltering against Frankie Edgar in 2015. He also fought at least twice a year for every year of his professional career except one -- in 2012, when he coached alongside Dominick Cruz on The Ultimate Fighter 14, then challenged Renan Barao for the UFC interim title after Cruz was sidelined by his first ACL tear.

In many ways, Faber was a model of reliability throughout much of his MMA run, and he is proud to walk away from the sport at age 37 with that record still intact.

"Not one serious injury," Faber said. "I've never been knocked unconscious in my entire career. I've been wobbled a couple times but I've never been knocked unconscious in practice or in a fight -- I'm knocking on wood right now, I have Brad Pickett (at UFC on FOX 22), a big hitter -- in any way, shape, or form. My mind and my body, I feel like I'm in better shape or just as good of shape as I've been and I want to continue with that. I'm going to stay competing in something. I'm going to stay training every day. I'm going to stay sharp, because that's what I love to do.

"But I have a lot of interests, a lot of passions that kind of distract me from time to time, and I've been lucky enough to be dedicated to a sport to where I've reached a point where I can do 10 rounds with anyone in the world and it's not a difficult thing. I've fought everybody in this sport, so I'm excited for the next generation. I'm excited to grow this team. I'm excited to get into entertainment and to build my business and everything else, and I feel like it's just the right time and I'm super thankful my relationships with the WEC and the UFC, Dana and Lorenzo. They've always been so good to me. I'm just thankful and I want to go out feeling good and having an amazing fight, and go to the next chapter."

UFC on FOX 22 serves as a fitting ending for Faber, who not only will go out competing in front of his longtime fans in Sacramento, but also will do so on the same card headlined by one of Team Alpha Male's brightest stars, Paige VanZant. The opportunity to leave on such storybook terms will be a true ‘coming full circle' moment, and Faber couldn't be more content with how things played out.

"It's beautiful. And the cool thing is, the best is yet to come with our team, especially with the way our coaching staff is right now," Faber said.

"I've got kids who are now my main training partners, like Joseph Morales and Andrew Coyne who were nine, 10 years old (when they started), and now are 6-0 as professionals at 22, married, have kids. And it's just nuts, man. I'm super stoked about this next generation of guys. I've been talking to these amazing recruits who have kind of like-minded personalities for Team Alpha Male who are coming out, like Alex Munoz and Jordan Oliver and Mike DePalma. These are all guys who are talking about coming out to our team who are high-level wrestlers who fit the mold, so it's an exciting time, and there's going to be a lot of Sacramento headliners from Team Alpha Male for the future."

Despite his many accomplishments, Faber admitted that his final fight at UFC on FOX 22 will probably end up being the proudest moment of his celebrated career.

But if he had to pick one other snapshot to look back on and enjoy, it would be his WEC 34 bout against Jens Pulver, which headlined Sacramento's ARCO Arena and served as the final successful defense of Faber's two-year reign as WEC featherweight champion.

"Jens Pulver was a former UFC champion. He's a guy who I followed and looked up to," Faber said. "It was my first big fight in the Sacramento arena. We were at ARCO, which was a big deal. I had been to the ARCO a couple of times as a kid in the nosebleeds, because we didn't have a lot of cash and weren't at the game (in the) front row. So to be a main event there was really cool, and to have an epic fight with Jens was real big. I think that it was the first time it was really put out there on a big, big platform.

"Now I'm happy to get back and have my last killer training camp with the best team in the world and go out with my city. End on a high note, getting a big win."