UFC

Faber turns focus to Barao

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A.J. Perez

A.J. Perez previously worked at USA Today, AOL and CBSSports.com, covering beats ranging from performance-enhancing drugs to the NHL. He has also been a finalist for an Associated Press Sports Editors award for investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter.

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Urijah Faber would only change one thing about his run as a coach on the inaugural season of “The Ultimate Fighter: Live” on FX, a reality competition that ended with two of his fighters in the finale.

“I would definitely do it again,” Faber told FOXSpots.com. “The only thing I would’ve changed is if I could have stayed on the same card we were promoting on the show. I was there to promote what was supposed to be one of the biggest events in history. We promoted that thing for four months straight and didn’t reap the benefits.”

Team Faber vs. a team led by Dominick Cruz was supposed to dovetail into a rematch between the two bantamweights. (They split their first two bouts.) Instead, a knee injury by Cruz resulted in a schedule change that bumped Faber to Saturday’s UFC 149 headlining bout against Renan Barao -- a fight that will determine the interim bantamweight championship.

“At this point, I’m not that frustrated about it,” Faber said. “I’ve known about the change for seven or eight weeks now. The show must go on. I’m here to fight. Barao is my focus now. I’m still hungry. That hasn’t changed.”

Good thing Faber isn’t sulking because Barao (28-1-0 with one no contest) is no slouch. The 25-year-old Brazilian has the longest unbeaten streak in the sport (29 fights), including a 5-0 record in WEC/UFC. (His only loss came in his first pro fight in 2005.)

He’s tops in the division in strikes per minute (4.30) and is one of the weight class’ top finishers.

“To me everything is about being the best and if I'm fighting Barao now, I'm not thinking about Dominick at all,” Faber said in a conference call with reporters last week. “I couldn’t care less about Dominick Cruz. The only reason I deal with him is because I have to and right now I don't have to so I'll cross that bridge when I get there.”

The oddsmakers also have Barao pegged as the favorite.

There’s been no specific timetable on when Cruz will be back from his ACL injury. If Faber prevails on Saturday, he said he’s not bound to wait around.

THEY'RE KNOCKOUTS

It's hard not to fall hard for the UFC Octagon Girls.

“It’s nothing personal against Dominick,” Faber said. “I wouldn’t want to wait around for anyone. I don’t like having somebody else dictate my life. I shouldn’t have to wait around. If we can make a fight happen that makes sense, it should happen in a timely fashion.”

Through an interpreter last week, Barao said if he wins the bout, he’d be happy to wait for Cruz to heal.

“That’s a fight that I would really want and I would want to convert my interim title into a definitive title for the weight class,” said Barao, who has trained with fellow countryman Jose Aldo, who beat Faber via decision at WEC 48 in April 2010.

Faber, one of the most affable fighters in the sport, has been thrust into the main attraction in the first UFC event held in Alberta, Canada. Nine fighters were rotated off the card due to injuries, including Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Michael Bisping and Thiago Alves.

“This is the craziest card of all time,” UFC president Dana White said. “I think that if you look at our track record, when things fall apart we put the cards back together.”

Faber (26-6) guaranteed fans won’t be disappointed.

“I don't feel pressured because I know I'm going to deliver,” he said. “I've never had a dull fight in my life and I've watched Barao. Barao is the type of fighter that will always have an exciting fight. We're going to go in there and try to take each other out from the get-go.”

Selling a fight is second nature to Faber, a legend in WEC with a record five consecutive defenses with the sanctioning body that was bought then merged into the UFC.

“It’s part of the job,” Faber said. “It’s one of the reasons we are getting paid all this money. You are trying to bring more people into the sport. The guys who do the most work are rewarded at the end.”

Faber, however, said it’s his experience — especially against the sport’s best fighters — and the fact that this fight is scheduled for five rounds that will be all that matters in Saturday’s main event.

“He's human just like anyone else,” Faber said. “That long streak is going to come to an end and I'm the one to do it.”

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