UFC

Interim title could be Faber's last shot

Inside Fights Scott Sawitz
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When Dominick Cruz hurt his knee this week, it caused a lot of problems in the UFC.

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It caused an entire card to be changed, and most likely will end up changing at least one, if not two, other cards the UFC has lined up.

It’s also ruined the final part of a trilogy between Cruz and Urijah Faber that was much anticipated. With talk of an interim title fight for Faber lined up, and with Cruz facing up to a year recovery time with a torn ACL, the one thing being overlooked is that now the pressure is even greater for Faber.

Why?

Because if he loses to another fighter in an interim-title fight at UFC 148, his odds at another title shot becomes exponentially tougher. A high-profile loss to a replacement fighter without a title on the line sets him back significantly, as well, obviously, but a shot at an interim title puts him in line for supremacy of the division.

Holding an interim title in the UFC generally is the fastest way to get a title shot. Shane Carwin and Randy Couture famously turned interim titles into shots at true championship belts; Carlos Condit is holding on to his until true welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre knows whether or not he can defend his title this year.

For Faber, an interim title in the UFC is something that enhances an already legendary career. Being a former champion, even if only an interim title, still holds weight when it comes to things like his long-term legacy. Faber has been one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world for quite some time, as well as a top-five fighter in two divisions. He could potentially be a top featherweight contender if he stayed at that weight class, which he did until Jose Aldo chased him from the division. At bantamweight, he and Cruz are clearly the top two fighters in the division.

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The fact that Faber has been so successful in two divisions is a credit to his ability to fight above and at his natural weight. It takes talent to be a top fighter in any division, but the ability to do so in two is rare. And from a marketing standpoint Faber is the type of fighter the UFC could want; he’s charismatic, loves to do media and has a first-rate athletic background.

Women love him, too, and he was high-profile enough in his WEC days to garner some solid endorsements despite not being in the top promotion in the world. He’s the type of fighter  you want to be front and center, preferably as a champion.

But here’s the thing: If he loses to either Renan Barao or Michael MacDonald, the two names bandied about as replacements for Cruz, another title shot might not happen for a long time, if ever.

The one downside to having had as many title shots as Faber has had after losing the WEC featherweight title is that in the future a title shot will be much more difficult. So far Faber has lost four straight title shots: outside of his controversial loss to Cruz for the bantamweight title he’s lost two to Michael Brown and one to Jose Aldo for the WEC featherweight title.

With four straight title losses on the docket, a fifth makes giving him another title shot that much tougher to justify. The division is shallow enough that a second challenge to Cruz can be justified, but not a third. That’s what ultimately the Cruz fight represented for Faber: potentially his last chance at wearing UFC gold around his waist. And a loss in a high-profile fight against someone like Barao or MacDonald would set him back even further.

The whole situation makes whatever fight Faber ends up with at UFC 148 a must-win. 

With Cruz out for a significant amount of time, UFC 148 is a good time to create an interim title. You have a star-making opportunity based on the main-event grudge match between Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen. If anyone deserves to get this sort of opportunity on this card it’s Faber; he’s forever a pioneer of the lower weight classes and one of the best fighters casual fans don’t know much about.

With one of the biggest audiences of the year tuning in for Silva-Sonnen II, Faber vs. whoever steps in for Cruz will be the co-main event of the year. And for Urijah Faber, a loss leaves him on the outside of the title picture, looking in for some time.

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