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Andre Fili explains the origins behind getting an elaborate Urijah Faber tattoo

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Andre Fili
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Andre Fili will be the first to admit not every tattoo he’s gotten holds a deeper meaning with him.

With a long term goal of covering every inch of skin with some kind of ink, the 29-year-old UFC featherweight has numerous pieces that are just for fun without any real significance to him beyond putting some new artwork on his body.

That’s not the case, however, with a detailed portrait he received of UFC Hall of Famer Urijah Faber last October. Fili revealed the piece after sitting with famed tattoo artist Steve Butcher, who has also completed elaborate portraits of athletes such as Conor McGregor and LeBron James in the past.

According to Fili, who fights Sodiq Yusuff on the UFC 246 prelims, the Faber tattoo was not only a tribute to someone he looks at like a big brother but it’s also a testament to the entire group of coaches and fighters he works with every day at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento.

“It’s to pay homage to Faber but it’s also about the team in general. This group of dudes who raised me,” Fili explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “I would probably be in jail right now if it wasn’t for Team Alpha Male. I was on house arrest when I got to Team Alpha Male.

“It’s not hard to draw a conclusion where I would be without this team.”

Before he found mixed martial arts, Fili was a troubled kid who found himself entangled with law enforcement more often than he’d probably like to admit. An unstable upbringing only further bolstered Fili’s internal rage, which often resulted in him lashing out with street fights and criminal activity that constantly landed him in hot water.

In fact, Fili is confident that his life would have continued down that disastrous path had he not met Faber and the team he founded in Sacramento.

“I’d be in jail for sure. I have no question,” Fili said. “I’d either be in jail or I’d be getting out of a jail working some deadbeat job. If you talk to Faber, he’ll tell the opposite. I’ve said that to Faber before, you basically saved my life.

“He’s just like, ‘F*ck off you would have figured it out without me.’ It’s true. He won’t admit it but that motherf*cker saved my life. Him and the rest of the team.”

Faber first met Fili a decade ago when he still on probation and couldn’t even make it to the evening practices because he was locked down on house arrest. Over time, Fili became a stalwart of the gym and Faber recognized right away that he had the potential to do something great in the sport.

“Fili is a unique kid. When you look at a kid like that, he’s always thought big, which is the most important thing,” Faber said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “He believes he can and he has a lot of self-confidence and isn’t afraid to think big and train big.

“We actually have an award, which he won for our team banquet, the ‘think big’ award. Because he’s not afraid to put the work in. He’s not afraid to verbalize it. He’s not worried about what people think. I always appreciate that. He’s a real asset to this team. It’s been cool to see him grow as an individual.”

Of course, Faber has a hard time taking credit for Fili’s transformation from troubled youth to UFC featherweight but he understands the logic to reach that conclusion.

“It’s easy for him to say that because he has a lot of friends who are dead. Friends who are in jail,” Faber said. “He’s seen just little decisions take guys with so much potential and put them down the wrong road. When he always says he couldn’t have done it without me or without the team, I really do believe that he would have done some good stuff.

“I think being around an environment that is inspiring and like-minded and getting in the right direction is a big part of people’s success. There is probably some truth to him being in a little more trouble or a little less far along as an athlete or maybe not even figuring out he was doing the right things because he didn’t have an example. I think he’s got a driven spirit, which always finds some sort of success.”

When it came to the decision to get the tattoo, Fili says it was just the perfect way to express his admiration to Faber and Team Alpha Male because just like the ink on his skin, they’ve made a permanent impression on his life.

“Some people probably think it’s weird or they’ll hate on it but that don’t really mean sh*t to me,” Fili said. “I’m the kind of guy who will tell you I love you. I’d rather tell you that I love you and have people look at me all f*cking weird than not to have gotten the chance.

“It’s just a tribute. It’s not just Faber. It’s everyone on the team. It’s everyone who’s put up with me for the past 10 years.”

After the tattoo was finished, Fili sent the photo to Faber to make sure he saw it first before being blindsided on Instagram.

As a clean-cut fighter without a single tattoo on his body, the 40-year-old “California Kid” has enjoyed taking some jabs at Fili in the past for his ink but this time around he could only reply with a gracious thank you.

“I was definitely honored,” Faber said. “Definitely surprised. Honestly, I’ve spent a lot of time making fun of some of his tattoos so it was tough to make fun of him for that one. That was a cool gesture and I know it means a lot to him being in an environment that he feels has changed his life.

“As the founder of the team, and a guy who’s always trying to bring positivity to their lives and give them a structure and a real feel of being part of something bigger than the fight game, it’s definitely an honor.”