THE SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT 12/19: The Retirement of Urijah Faber and his legacy in the sport of MMA

By D.R. Webster, MMATorch contributor

Urijah Faber (artist Grant Gould © MMATorch)

After announcing his retirement plans in October, UFC veteran and pioneers of the lower weight divisions, Urijah Faber fought what was billed as his final fight on Saturday night in his home state of California.

Faber entered the Octagon one last time to a hero’s welcome in Sacramento and went out with a top class one-sided unanimous decision victory over the UK’s Brad Pickett.

Faber almost finished the fight three minutes into the first round with a left hook. Despite not being able to force the finish, Faber capped off his 13 year career with a performance which ranked up their with his best, showing that he was retiring while still being at a high level as a fighter.

Faber entered his last fight having lost two in a row as well as three of his previous four fights. He turned on the style for this swan song, looking more motivated than he had done in several fights.

Before this fight took place, many agreed with Faber’s decision to hang up the gloves at this point in his career. However, after this performance, looking better than he has done in a long time, many feel like Faber still has enough gas in the tank to continue on, with some comparing the way he looked last night to his prime days in WEC where he held the WEC Featherweight Title for two years. During that reign, he beat long time rivals Dominick Cruz and Jens Pulver in title defences before losing it to current UFC fighter, Mike Brown.

He did perform very well on Saturday night and could easily go on fighting. He could still be a threat in the Bantamweight Division. That said, after four unsuccessful title challenges over the years, a UFC Title shot wasn’t in the cards for Faber and, at this point, that seemed to be the deciding factor. Without the allure of the gold and at age 37, the hunger is not what it once was and Faber probably made a smart decision.

He went out still looking like a top fighter which is much better than hanging around to play gatekeeper to young and hungry talent on the rise looking to make a name for themselves by defeating an important veteran like him.

Faber discussed why he was retiring this week in a few different interviews leading up to the fight.

“I feel very fortunate to have my health,” he said. “My mind is on point, my body feels great, I definitely enjoy what I’m doing, but it doesn’t have the same kind of emotional rise that it has in the past. I feel like that’s kind of a big important thing to look at. Not that it’s a reason to stop all together, but I know that if I don’t put a timetable on it, I’ll just continue to go, continue to go, and continue to go.

“I’m so comfortable competing and fighting and I could do it for another 10 years and be competitive. Maybe get another title shot, if it the cards and play the right way. But I do have a lot of other things I’m working on and I feel like this sport is not something you do half-assed or you don’t devote all your time to and I think I’m ready to devote some time to other things.”

Also, the fact the UFC was coming to Sacramento for his fight, according to Faber, the timing just felt right.

“This fight is in my hometown,” he said. “It’s in the new arena. It’s kind of a perfect time to move onto bigger and better things and not be retired per se. I’ll be working just as hard.”

Faber also spoke to his home town audience in his post-fight interview and seemed ready to move on from fighting at this point in his life.

“This experience has been amazing,” he said. “I feel like I’ve got my PhD in real life and like I just graduated. I’m ready to go forward and do some big things… Thank you to Brad Pickett. What a warrior he is. And thank you to the UFC staff. [UFC president] Dana [White], [and former owners] Lorenzo and Frank [Fertitta] since the beginning have been very cool to me. I appreciate everything. In the future, I’m going to do some big things.”

Faber has given over 13 years to MMA and, although he had his best days in the WEC, he was heavily responsible for the rise in popularity of the lighter weight classes in the UFC, being one of the star attractions overall upon their introductions.

He ends his career with a 34-10 record and one reign as WEC Featherweight Champion.

Faber now moves on from his own fighting career to continue his work with Team Alpha Male in Sacramento and has several other ventures at the moment including a health bar, clothing brand, construction company, and a TV show project being pitched to FX.

He was asked a question about taking on a role with the UFC a la Chuck Liddell and Matt Hughes, but that isn’t a priority for Faber at this point.

“I’d love to stay involved (with the UFC) in some level,” Faber said. “But there are also a lot of things I want to focus on. It’s not like I have everything set up, but it’s also not like I’m going to be starting new and figuring out what I want to be doing. I have a ton of projects that I’ve been working on. I learned a lot about people, about business, about just life in general through this process. It’s not like I’m set for life, I mean.”

Faber received many well-wishes from fellow fighters on social media after his fight. Most surprisingly were two of his biggest rivals, long time nemesis Dominick Cruz and former friend and teammate turned rival, T.J. Dillashaw.

Earlier this week in an interview, Cruz spoke about Faber and the legacy that he leaves behind, showing respect towards him and his achievements, as well as his role in the building of lighter weight classes.

“To be perfectly honest, the guy started this sport in the lighter weight class,” Cruz said. “When I first started this thing, there were only 155-pounders and up. Because he had a good following in Sacramento, that whole town got behind him, he was able to get people to show up to the shows and be able to make a run for the lighter weight classes. Without him, without a star, an early star in the early days in this sport, the lighter weight classes might not have been made. That’s the truth.”

Cruz discussed their long rivalry and how it has now been buried. “I was there right next to him, right with him. The difference is, he was bashing me down while he was the star, so I didn’t get the limelight. And that’s okay. That made me who I am today. I’m appreciative for Urijah Faber. I’m appreciative for the rivalry. I’m appreciative for the fights that I have with that man. I’m going to look back in time and be glad that we fought like we did and said the things that we did about each other, and I’m happy for his future. And that whole thing with me and him is completely buried. Like, I couldn’t be happier that chapter of my life is done, and I wish him nothing but the best.

In addition, after the fight, Cruz also gave Faber a gift: an old signed WEC 26 poster, the event which Faber successfully defended his WEC Title against Cruz, the ultimate sign of respect from Cruz here.

Then Faber’s former Team Alpha Male teammate, T.J. Dillashaw posted on social media with a message of respect despite their bad blood stemming from Dillashaw leaving Team Alpha Male for Elevation Fight Team last year.

Dillashaw posted: “All petty bullcrap aside, congratulations to @urijahfaber on his win and great career. Paved the way for us lighter weights.”

All of this shows the impact that Urijah Faber has had in his career. Even his biggest rivals have shown him respect despite everything that has happened between them. Also, despite never winning a UFC Title and never quite managing to defeat the other top names in his division, his legacy is cemented by his efforts to draw attention to lighter weight classes which opened the doors for so many from Dominick Cruz to T.J. Dillashaw to Jose Aldo and even Conor McGregor.

Whether you are fan of his or not, his importance to the development and rise of the lighter weight classes cannot be denied. Aside from some of his great performances inside the cage, it’s what he meant to the lighter weight division that he will and should be remembered for. With Team Alpha Male, he is looking to extend his legacy further by developing a new generation of champions.

NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT: THE SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT: The prospects of a Women’s Featherweight Division, and will Cyborg be part of it?

(D.R. Webster writes “The Sunday Supplement” for MMATorch each week and also authors the MMATorch Daily Trivia feature. He has written for Daily Record Sport, WrestleTalk TV, Sports Kings, and a variety of other combat sports sites and publications, including review shows and DVDs, news reporting, columns, and fantasy articles.)

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