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Fortunes changed for five at UFC on FOX 22

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UFC on FOX 22 photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

While not put on last, if you were watching Saturday night's UFC on FOX show, it was very clear the real main event was Urijah Faber's retirement victory over Brad Pickett.

With Faber clearly dominant in the fight, the crowd of 13,136 fans at the first MMA show ever at the new Golden One Center, counted down the final seconds of Faber's career. They followed by giving him an enthusiastic standing ovation. The reaction was louder and more sustained than even at his biggest wins a few miles away at the old Arco Arena. His retirement ends an era on the local fighting scene, and to an extent on the national scene as well.

Faber was Sacramento's first fighting star. Before he was on television, he had won the Gladiator Challenge bantamweight title in the city in 2006. He took the old WEC promotion to a new level with his win over Jens Pulver two years later, drawing a crowd of 12,682 fans, a number far beyond anything that promotion was capable of drawing. He made the city the unofficial home base for the promotion. That fight is still the second-highest rated non-UFC card ever on basic cable television. The fight, the fifth defense of his featherweight title, made Faber the first sub-155 pound MMA star.

But Faber never won another championship fight. Still, for the next eight years, he remained constantly a top-3 contender, if not the top contender, and never once lost a non-title fight until 2015. It was a unique legacy of being once the best, and still almost the best, but never the best again, for seven straight years.

There have really only been a few hometown heroes at his level, people who put the sport on the map in their city, and with the combination of fighting ability, charisma and drawing power to stay there. In that sense, he's the last original one, given the other big hometown first generation North American draws, Georges St-Pierre in Montreal, and Frank Shamrock and Cung Le in San Jose, have all been out of competition for several years.

In recent years, Conor McGregor blew past him as the biggest sub-155 pound drawing card. Dominick Cruz surpassed him in all-around fighting ability. Paige VanZant,. due to "Dancing With the Stars," may have even surpassed him as the most well-known fighter out of Sacramento. But he'll always be the one who put a promotion (WEC), a division (featherweight) and a city on the world MMA map.

The FOX show was also unique, because this is one of the most difficult shows to follow up on. Faber, the biggest star of the show, will have the biggest change of his life. He said he'll be recruiting and training fighters, and spending more time running other local business interests. He didn't completely close the door on fighting again, but in many ways it would be the best if that was his farewell. The fighting game is not pretty when it comes to aging fighters, particularly in lighter weight divisions. Faber had the chance to have an ending that was almost perfectly scripted, and would be next to impossible to duplicate.

But let's look at how Fortunes Changed for Five other stars of the show.

MICHELLE WATERSON - The winner of the actual main event, Waterson (14-4) was simply too advanced on the ground for VanZant. Her situation is interesting.

She was in the main event on one of the most-watched UFC televised events in recent years, meaning a lot of casual fans now have a better idea who she is.

In the strawweight division, champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk has beaten every top contender convincingly. Waterson, if nothing else, is a new opponent who now will bring some name value to the fight. The other most obvious contender for the title is Jessica Andrade.

Andrade is bigger, has looked great in the division and has beaten tougher competition. But UFC, like it or not, is also about marketability and name value. Waterson, a former atomweight champion at Invicta, main evented on FOX in her second UFC show because of perceived marketability. By coming out of it with a first-round win, more people saw her win and know her than Andrade.

But realistically, she shouldn't be getting that fight. And she's still small for the division, which will hurt her against the stronger women higher up on the division. Better next opponents are Rose Namajunas (5-3) and Maryna Moroz (8-1).

PAIGE VANZANT - VanZant (8-2) lost the fight, but the ratings success of the show itself was a feather in her cap.

It was already made clear in her loss to Namajunas, where VanZant showed heart but wasn't close to the level of her opponent. VanZant is very much the green fighter that Waterson had said she was in the fight build. But she's also a star that fans want to see. A loss, or two, isn't going to change that she's far more valuable to the company than most fighters who are superior to her.

A good next opponent would be Alexa Grasso (9-0). Grasso did well in generating eyeballs in her last UFC fight, and has a chance to be a significant star for the company in the Mexico market. VanZant as a foe would make it a spotlight fight, and a high-profile win if Grasso can take it. And if VanZant wins, she would have beaten a fighter with a good record and be ready for another showcase fight.

MICKEY GALL - Gall (4-0) is also in a strange position. He's essentially a rookie fighter who has a well-known name based on wins over C.M. Punk and Sage Northcutt. He does have potential, but at this stage of his career he shouldn't be going against fighters with substantial ring experience. In other words, most of the roster.

It makes him difficult to match make. Gall called out Dan Hardy, who may not even be able to get licensed due to concerns over his Wolf Parkinson White heart syndrome. And even if he can, Hardy has made it clear it's not a fight he's interested in.

Gall wants to move to 155, a weight class that may have the most depth of experienced all-around fighters. But even being matched with exciting but far from top-ranked fighters in the division, such as Tae Hyun Bang (18-10) or Polo Reyes (7-3), he's giving away a lot of experience.

SAGE NORTHCUTT - If it's hard to match make for Gall, it's even harder at this point for Northcutt (8-2). He's shown vulnerability on the ground. But he's also 20 years old and has a lot of improving to do, and is already got a name far beyond his fighting level.

It's hard to know what to do with him. If he was to fight C.M. Punk, the fight would garner a lot of interest, particularly if it was on FOX, and he'd likely look impressive in winning. But you'd be back in the same position of it being difficult to come out with the right opponent for him afterwards.

Northcutt is likely to move back to 155. He's clearly not ready for name fighters at this point, but is someone with name value. It may be best served to bring in an opponent from outside the UFC, who is primarily a striker, because Northcutt has been finished twice on the ground.

ALAN JOUBAN - Jouban (14-4), executed a well-strategized plan in winning a decision over previously unbeaten Mike Perry.

There are three welterweights that have fought over the past few weeks that could make for good opponents. Choice No. 1 would be Matt Brown (20-16), because Brown is a fighter fans pay attention to and has a track record of exciting bouts. Emil Meek (9-2) would be another good test. Colby Covington (11-1) dominated his fight earlier Saturday over Bryan Barbarena and would be a good test for Jouban against a strong wrestler.