Urijah Faber’s Monday started off just like any other until he was sitting in a meeting and his phone rang — the name that popped up read ‘Dana White’.
If there’s one person you don’t ignore as a fighter it’s White, so Faber quickly picked up the call to see what the UFC’s head honcho was calling about.
"Dana called and when Dana calls you pick up, it’s usually some sort of interesting news. So I knew something was up," Faber told FOX Sports on Monday. "So he calls and says ‘here’s the situation, Dominick Cruz is out, he ripped his groin and it’s pretty serious’ and just wanted to know if I could step up in three and a half weeks. I was like yep, let’s do it. Took me about two seconds."
There was no trepidation or hesitation in Faber’s response. Sure, he just got back from a trip to Mexico where he vacationed after his win over Michael McDonald at UFC on FOX 9, and he just got through the holidays, which can be notoriously fattening on the body.
There’s no doubt, the guy’s too stubborn not to get back on the horse and heal up eventually. I’ll be cheering for him to heal up so I can punch him again.
- Urijah Faber
But Faber knew there was no way he was going to pass up on the chance to fight for the UFC bantamweight title, rematch the last fighter to hand him a defeat and finally wrap gold back around his waist for the first time since 2008.
"I’m the type of guy that feels like opportunities, they come you’ve got to take them because you never really know what’s going to happen in this world as the tale is with Dominick (Cruz)," Faber said.
Dominick Cruz is the other part of the equation that opened up a slot to allow Faber the chance to face Barao for the title at UFC 169. Cruz suffered a groin tear that cost him the fight and the bantamweight belt because he had to surrender the title following a tumultuous two-plus years out of the sport due to injury.
There’s an old saying that you wouldn’t wish something tragic to happen to your worst enemy and in this case it applies to the new top contender at 135 pounds. Faber’s disdain for Cruz is legendary, but even he hates seeing a fighter go through something like this.
"I feel for the guy," Faber said about Cruz. "We don’t really like each other, but we’ve had some communication throughout the years and I’ve talked to him about this and we still want to fight each other. There’s no doubt, the guy’s too stubborn not to get back on the horse and heal up eventually. I’ll be cheering for him to heal up so I can punch him again."
Faber now faces a familiar foe in Renan Barao.
Faber now moves his own focus back to UFC 169 and a short three-week turnaround before he faces Barao for a second time. Their last meeting ended with a dull thud after the two fighters put on a less-than-stellar bout that culminated in Barao’s hand being raised and Faber nursing a broken rib.
Never one to make excuses, Faber gives Barao his credit for being the better man that night and as far as the rib injury, he just applauds the Brazilian for landing the strike that hurt him. It doesn’t mean, however, that there weren’t other extenuating circumstances playing a part in the fight between Faber and Barao.
Just weeks before Faber was shifted to UFC 149, he was set to co-headline UFC 148 in Las Vegas against his old rival Cruz as part of one of the biggest cards in MMA history. Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen were set to square off in the main event, with Faber and Cruz expected to settle their rivalry in the cage as well.
Unfortunately once Cruz fell out and another injury happened that canceled the original main event for UFC 149, Faber was pulled from the card and shifted to a different show instead. To say it destroyed his motivation would be a massive understatement.
I’m just going to be a whole different fighter and he’s going to have to be because I’m going to be bringing it.
- Urijah Faber on his rematch with Renan Barao
"A lot of people don’t know the back story about how that fight came into culmination," Faber explained. "When you look at it, we had a fight, but the real truth to that fight is that fight was at a low point in my career for some opportunities being taken away from me. I just sat out the whole year to coach the reality show, the first time that it was a live event that was three and a half months of my life.
"Then I was supposed to be on this huge pay-per-view card that had all these big names on it and put a ton of money in my pocket and because of the injuries to (Jose) Aldo and Cruz I got yanked off that. Basically just a huge, huge swing and it’s hard not to let that get in your head. The motivation for that fight, I hate to ever let anything get to me, but it was pretty low."
Right now is a much different story for Faber.
He spent the last year rediscovering his love of MMA by just letting go of material desires like being worried about titles and money. Instead, Faber went out and fought because that’s what he loved to do and the results paid off.
Faber went 4-0 in 2013 with three finishes and he wants to kick off 2014 in the exact same manner. He also has a warning for Barao that if he thinks the fighter he took on at UFC 149 was the real Urijah Faber, then he will be sorely mistaken and without a title come Sunday, Feb 2.
"I think it was a really close fight the last time and, barring a few punches and kicks here and there, it was an uneventful fight. I’m going to make this fight eventful, I’m going to make it exciting, I’m going to let it all hang out and I know he’s going to do the same," Faber said. "I’m just going to be a whole different fighter and he’s going to have to be, because I’m going to be bringing it."