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Urijah Faber’s Unfamilar Role at UFC on Fox 9 in Sacramento

Urijah Faber, California Kid turned old man needing a Hurrycane?

It’s been a strange journey for the former WEC ace in the UFC. He was a big fish in a small pond, drawing huge crowds on WEC shows and pulling in solid ratings when the promotion was on Versus (now NBCSN). In Sacramento, no one was bigger than Faber as a sports star. Bigger than anyone on the Sacramento Kings or the Rivercats. Faber was the man.

Then UFC closed the WEC and shifted fighters away to their main roster. Faber, who had his own identity & character as a top champion, suddenly just became another guy in the UFC ecosystem. Faber is one of those rare fighters who actually hasn’t benefited, image-wise, from the consolidation. He’s still revered in Sacramento and the locals view him in special favor but his stardom has not grown like most guys who make the shift to the UFC.

Not top dog in his own backyard?

The advertising campaign for the UFC on Fox 9 show in Sacramento by UFC in the local TV market has come across somewhat as a nationalized campaign. WEC used to focus squarely on the local Alpha Male fighters and Faber was the centerpiece of marketing campaigns. This time around, the UFC put their eggs in the Anthony Pettis vs. Josh Thomson basket. Promoting a San Jose fighter like Josh Thomson in Sacramento came across as strange. Thomson is a regional, not local attraction. People in the Bay Area often refer to Sacramento as “up north.” Yahoo Sports basketball writer Marc Spears famously ripped into Sacramento last year on Gary Radnich’s KNBR radio show, labeling the Capitol as the “arm pit of the Bay Area.”

In other words, for UFC to focus the promotion on Thomson rather than Faber was kind of an insult.

Then came a big break — literally. Pettis was hurt and the fight with Thomson was removed. Faber’s top understudy, Joe Benavidez, was moved to the main event against UFC Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson. Urijah Faber was positioned in the semi-main event slot. Order was restored. Ticket sales are expected to be over 10,000 for the show and the comp ticket list for politicians & dignitaries is expected to be huge.

If it wasn’t for Anthony Pettis getting hurt, the UFC wouldn’t have spent the last couple of weeks promoting Urijah Faber the way they have been now. The whole vibe has been strange since Faber entered the UFC. He came into the organization with the status of a former champion who was thought to be in decline after hard fights against Mike Brown & Jose Aldo. The injury bug hit Faber and frustrated him on his quest to becoming champion once again. Suddenly, Faber was tagged as the guy who’s good enough to become #1 contender but not good enough to be champion.

Entering into the UFC, he was thrown right to the wolves against the underrated Eddie Wineland. Then came the match against evil heel point-fighter Dominick Cruz and Cruz’s speed & technique was too much to handle. Renan Barao, the unstoppable bantamweight, was the next to throw a monkey wrench into Faber’s plans. Barao is now headed for a showdown in February against Cruz. Meanwhile, Faber got back on track after his loss to Barao with solid wins over Ivan Menjivar, Scott Jorgensen, and Yuri Alcantara.

Role reversal

Intriguingly, Saturday night’s UFC on Fox 9 fight at Arco Arena in Sacramento against young phenom Michael MacDonald is the kind of bout that positions Urijah Faber into a new role as a fighter — the grizzled veteran. The California Kid is really facing a young northern California kid who would love nothing more than to see Faber pass that torch to him.

Faber’s new role as “old guy trying to smack down the young punks” was crystallized in a taped interview that aired during the Sacramento Kings/Utah Jazz game Saturday night at half-time. Kings interviewer Kayte Christensen, who towered over Faber, was asking him questions about where his career stands now and what the future holds for him. Faber, ever the smooth businessman, talked about the Alpha Male gym, his new web site, the clothing line Torque, and his students that he is so proud of.

Then came the topic of Michael MacDonald. Faber was affable in praise for the young fella but also found himself talking about how much fighting experience he had compared to life experience his opponent has. Going after guys in their early 20s is something new he has to deal with.

“It’s going to be crazy. It’s going to be awesome. It’s going to be tough. He’s a dangerous guy, for sure. … We’re going to throw down. It’s going to be kind of nasty.”

Faber, reflecting upon his vast experience as a fighter, elaborated on his strategy in battling the younger stars.

“It’s important to know your opponent. You want to get an idea of the type of offense he has. … I like to focus on my offense and be aware of what the other guy is bringing.”

On Saturday, Faber will have his hands full against a fighter who really has little to lose. The pressure to maintain relevancy in a very tough Bantamweight division and win on home turf makes the stakes that much higher.