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The rubber match between Dominic Cruz and Urijah Faber will resolve things, but that rivalry will live on

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If you haven’t considered the dangers of doodling by now, look no further than the simmering rivalry between Urijah Faber and Dominick Cruz, who will meet for the third time on Saturday night. A long time ago, before their first fight at WEC 26 in 2007, Cruz had the audacity to sign his name colorfully over Faber’s likeness on the promotional posters. Though he’s proven incapable of rising to the octave of "pissed off," Faber packed a pretty tight grudge against the current bantamweight champion that remains intact some nine years later.

And that’s where we stand heading into UFC 199’s co-main event. Faber won that first fight, giving Cruz his first (and only) loss. Cruz won the second in 2011. Eons have passed in between trying to trilogize the series. Through all that life that’s been lived since they last met at UFC 132 — Cruz undergoing three ACL procedures and becoming the game’s best analyst; Faber fighting twice more for titles and coming up short; Cathal Pendred fighting out pretty much the entire length of his career, etc, etc. — they’ve gone right on ahead sneering at each other. It’s actually kind of touching that they can stretch such bitterness across the years like that.

Still, the thing will end Saturday night at the Forum in Inglewood, which can’t help but produce a kind of pre-nostalgic pang for the era closing out. The odds-makers love Cruz — who came back from essentially four years of anguish and recovery to take the belt from Faber’s one-time homie T.J. Dillashaw in January — to continue on his winning ways. Faber, in the minds of many, is a decorative piece in the scenario. He’s won three of his last five, but the wins (against Alex Caceres, Francisco Rivera and Frankie Saenz) don’t carry the same message as the losses (against Renan Barao and Frankie Edgar). Faber was the original star of the smaller frames. He remains a brand. Yet there’s a feeling that he’s been at a trot in the process to evolve as a fighter, while others have sprinted right past him.

Including Cruz, who has competed just three times since that last meeting. Faber has fought 11 times since then. The logistics in this case are all out of whack, if not telling.

But forget about the what "should" happen "on paper" BS. This one is marked by the seething hearts of those swinging the fists, and all that cargo they’ll dump in the Octagon on Saturday. Of all of Faber’s opponents over the years, nobody gets him as riled up as Cruz, whose well-honed smugness took a long time to translate for fans, and has always bothered "The California Kid." Cruz knows he gets under Faber’s skin, and this whole time he’s been burrowing with the work ethic of a feisty little tick. Thursday’s press conference was high-class comedy routine with all the barbs and pokes, and in its best moments devolved into a spa spat between old bitties.

The former champion Dillashaw, with his links to both sides, became some vague summer love interest they shared in common.

Cruz insisted that Faber ran from his erstwhile teammate at Team Alpha Male for four years, knowing damn well that that’s a stretch to claim. But you know who took the bait? Faber. He took it every time, adjusting in his seat, searching out the right adjectives, trying to untie the knot of Cruz’s misconceptions and exaggerations, genuinely wanting to set the record straight. It’s been comical. And it’s been entertaining. All fighters should be required to hate one another before a fight or — short of that — at least be made to get so flustered that the laying on of hands feels like the only logical next step.

Truth be told, that aspect is going to be missed. For nearly a decade the Cruz-Faber rivalry has burbled under all attempts of civility, going back to the halcyon days of the too-blue WEC cage. Whether they want to acknowledge it or not, that rivalry embodies much of the young sport’s history, too. These guys go back to the old West. They are both California OGs. All these years later both are somehow not only still relevant (which, in itself is a rare feat in the land of light gloves), but still at the top of the game (if even in interest level alone).

The words have flown between them plenty over the years, and we’ve seen both evolve as human beings. Now the fists will fly one last time in a rubber match that was fueled for so long on genuine dislike. The title will either go to Faber, or stay with Cruz. Somebody will stencil their name over the other’s for posterity, and close out a what’s been a fine, fine rivalry.

Either way it goes, hey, it’s been fun.