‘The California Kid’ is back.
Former WEC featherweight champion and long-time UFC contender Urijah Faber is returning to professional fighting this Saturday after having retired from the sport in late 2016. Faber, who’s one of the most recognized fighters of his era and division, will be making his comeback in front of his hometown, taking on ranked bantamweight Ricky Simon in the co-headlining bout of UFC Sacramento in California.
From the new opportunities that have emerged in the current landscape of MMA to a UFC event at home, there were many factors that contributed to Faber’s decision to resume his career in the UFC. But above all, Faber is well aware of the effects of father time and the physical demands of the fight game.
“First and foremost, time is of the essence,” Faber said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “You can’t just jump back whenever because there’s going to be a time where you can’t jump in and compete against the best in the world, I’m very aware of that.
“I also have an opportunity to test myself whenever I want against the best guys, so you know, I’ve dabbled with that over the last two and a half years. I know where I stand and I’m in a great place. The UFC has been offering me fights periodically, just to test the waters with me, and that got my juices flowing in a couple of different opportunities that were kind of enticing, but I didn’t want to go in there half-cocked. I didn’t want to take an opportunity when I was ill prepared. So I started getting into that kind of mindset after a few opportunities, and really, at the end of the day, I’m at a different place right now.
“It’s a really exciting time with the ESPN partnership and all the things that are happening, so we want to take advantage of that, absolutely. And knowing that I have the ability, it’s really nice and there are people everyday in the gym that are just working for their small opportunity to get in there and fight, and get themselves an option in the UFC, so they can get their pay up, a fight that matters. And here I am, just sitting on all that at the snap of one finger, so not wanting to take that for granted and just using the best time and energy before it’s too late.”
When Faber walked away from MMA, he did it with a dominant decision win over fellow veteran Brad Pickett. He entered his then final bout ranked seventh at bantamweight and having challenged for the UFC belt just a couple of fights before.
But the despite leaving as a top dog in the division and still feeling game, Faber is not delusional about the reality of comebacks in combat sports. Many fighters have had successful returns, but many others haven’t.
“I definitely want to test myself and see exactly where I fit in the lay of the land because mentally, I’m the a guy that’s in the UFC Hall of Fame, a top contender, a world champion. You’re not going to lose that self-belief, but reality and self-belief are not always the same thing. So you have to throw your hat in and say, ‘Alright, where do I sit? Give me a tough competitor that’s on the rise and see how my self-belief matches up with my reality.’ And that’s what I’m going to do.”
Faber’s confidence in his return at UFC Sacramento doesn’t all rely on his past achievements and glory. The Team Alpha Male general has been putting in work during his two-plus years away from MMA competition, preparing for grappling matches and helping his teammates and pupils gear-up for their respective fights.
“I definitely have and the proof is in the pudding,” Faber explained. “I was already in the room just doing the grappling stuff because it’s my favorite way to get in shape, but pushing Cody Garbrandt during his camps to do a 50-minute grind match with me to push the metal side of things. Getting in there and sparring with Chad Mendes to make sure he has a good sparring, so you know, there’s no delusion here.
“It’s not like I was out on vacation or doing anything else besides being around the sport, so I know here I’m at, but that doesn't necessarily mean I know exactly where Ricky Simon is at or anyone else until we get in the real fist fight. But I know where I stand talent wise, skill wise, and mindset wise. And my body, I’m the picture of health. I’ve really been lucky. From the very beginning, I’ve been all bout health and taking care of yourself and I’m a product of that.”
Win or lose, Faber is not making any promises of a sustained comeback. He’s still a big name in the promotion despite not being active in recent years, and he was recently called out by UFC champ-champ (and Olympic gold medalist) Henry Cejudo – a fight that interests Faber.
Yet, despite the many positives favoring prolonged stay, Faber wants to wait and see how he feels throughout the entire process of his return. A full comeback to MMA depends on much more than winning or losing.
“I’m not 100 percent, but I do have four fights (left) in my contract with the UFC,” Faber said. “I’ve always had those and I’ve always stayed in the USADA pool just in case I really enjoy this process, preparing for this fight, and getting myself in a space where I want to get in there and grind and have fun with it.
“Maybe it’s just because it’s summer, don’t know, but this has been a really fun process. So if that’s the sentiment through out the whole process of this fight – including what happens in the fight, how my family handles it, and everything else – win, lose or draw I might fight again. It’s not like if I win I’m going to stay, if I lose I’m going to go. I might win and stay, I might win and go, you know. It’s not about that. It’s about following my heart and passion.”