Urijah Faber’s Hall of Fame-worthy career ended with a one-sided fight against English journeyman Brad Pickett in Faber’s hometown of Sacramento, California. From his walkout, to his sharp grappling, to the way the crowd in the brand-new Golden 1 Center was chanting his name throughout the fight, it turned out to be a perfect last chapter of a 13-year-long story in which “The California Kid” not only conquered the WEC Featherweight Championship but also put the lower weight classes on the map.
Late in the first round, it looked like the 37-year-old could finish the fight when he dropped Pickett with a left hook. He let rain down punches on his opponent and then transitioned to a rear-naked choke attempt. Pickett, however, kept fighting and survived. He even was able to slow down Faber by throwing painful kicks to the calf, which led to a grappling-heavy approach by the hometown hero.
Faber went into the fight tied for the second most submissions in UFC/WEC history with 12. It seemed he wanted to end his career with another. But several attempts to apply a guillotine choke, which was one of Faber’s most dangerous weapons throughout his career, failed. At the end, the judges’ scores were 30-26 across the board for a unanimous decision.
Afterward, Faber thanked Dana White and the former UFC owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta. He also pointed out that he is far from leaving the sport. “I’m ready to move forward and do some big things,” Faber said. “Thanks to the UFC, everything went so quickly and I appreciate everything. I’ve got my team coming up, Paige, and Cody Garbrandt. Sactown I love you.”
The founder of Team Alpha Male out of Sacramento is not only an accomplished fighter in the cage but also known as a savvy businessman outside the Octagon. He will continue to promote several high-profile fighters and earn percentages of their purse. One of Team Alpha Male’s top prospects, Paige VanZant, fought minutes after Faber finished his career in the main event bout of the UFC on Fox 22 card. And even though the 22-year-old prospect suffered a loss to Michelle Waterson, she remains one of Team Alpha Male’s and therefore Faber’s hottest commodities. The same goes for Cody Garbrandt, who will challenge Faber’s long-time foe Dominick Cruz for the UFC Bantamweight Championship at UFC 207 on Dec. 30.
A former NCAA wrestler, Faber started his professional career in Mixed Martial Arts in 2003, making his debut as part of the Gladiator Challenge promotion. For a little more than two years, he was mostly fighting in Indian resort casinos in California for small prize money before debuting for the WEC. In his first fight for the promotion, he beat Cole Escovedo and won the Featherweight Championship which he defended five times while becoming the face of the lighter weight classes and the biggest draw for WEC.
When Faber was featured in the promotion’s main event he drew an average of 840,000 viewers, twice over a million viewers at WEC 34 and 41. “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,” admitted no less than Dominick Cruz earlier this week. Faber and longtime rival Cruz buried the hatchet on the Fox post-show following Faber's fight.
After losing the belt to Mike Brown, Faber remained a high-level competitor who usually beat fellow contenders but suffered defeat against the kingpins of the Featherweight and Bantamweight divisions. After his second loss to Brown in 2009, Faber earned five more opportunities to win a WEC or UFC belt. He came up short on all five occasions.
Nevertheless, because of his athleticism, marketability and strong support in the Sacramento area, Faber stayed relevant until the very end of his career, even though his skills in the cage did not evolve for years, a typical Alpha Male issue these days. Just take a look at his 15 months: he headlined the 22nd edition of The Ultimate Fighter alongside Conor McGregor and challenged Cruz for the Bantamweight strap once again.
A lop-sided encounter with Jimmie Rivera back in September, however, made clear that Faber’s days at the top of the sport were numbered. Thus a dominant victory over a fellow veteran in Brad Pickett, while showing glimpses of the great athleticism that once brought him to the dance, was the picture-perfect ending to his active career in the cage. A call back to the days of his prime.