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Faber not sweating title pressureJanuary 7, 2014 « United unwilling to loan Zaha to Palace | Rooney out for United, Vidic returns »
I'm not calling it Urijah Faber's last chance at a UFC title - but I get it if you do.
Let's just get this out in the open, right? We're all OK with Faber getting first crack at newly minted UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao because 'The California Kid' had a monster year in 2013. A crazy, monster year. Way to go, Urijah.
If he doesn't get it done this time, though - stop. No more. That would be six failed title bids in a little more than five years. Enough is enough.
This is not my opinion. Whoever is the best in the world should fight for the belt. There is an element of entertainment involved, yes, but should Faber lose early next month to Barao, I won't campaign to forever ban him from UFC title shots.
But as I said, I know many of you would (or will). So considering that, you think he might hesitate a little when the UFC asked him to fight Barao on three weeks' notice? Wouldn't he want a full training camp for title shot No. 6?
The answer is apparently "no" and it's part of the reason Faber has earned more opportunities at a world title than most fighters dream about.
"I'm not going to learn any secret trick in a six-week camp," Faber told ESPN. "I'm not into that. I'm going to go out and fight this guy.
"I didn't get into this sport because I thought if I was prepared, I might be pretty good or hang with the best. I got into this sport because I was like, 'Dude, nobody in the world is going to beat me up.'"
This rematch between Barao and Faber is already different from the first. As much as Faber is seemingly immune to the different circumstances from fight to fight, he wasn't up to face Barao when they met in July 2012.
That summer, Faber (30-6) held what UFC president Dana White has constantly referred to as a "winning lottery ticket," in that he was scheduled to fight Dominick Cruz at UFC 148 and take a piece of the revenue pie from the event.
When Cruz went down with a torn ACL, Faber went from the Anderson Silva-Chael Sonnen II card in Las Vegas to a Calgary-based UFC 149 later that month, which had been decimated by injury.
By the time Faber and Barao walked out, the Canadian crowd was delirious over what was unquestionably the worst UFC card top to bottom I've ever witnessed in person. To this day, White, sometimes unprompted, apologises for that event.
"I pride myself on always being mentally prepared, but just my morale - my excitement - wasn't there," Faber said. "It was actually the opposite. I think there were more people at the weigh-ins for [UFC 148] than there were at my fight.
"I was supposed to be a big part of that and instead I felt like the red-headed stepchild in Calgary. Then I had a crappy performance. The fight was boring, in my opinion. It wasn't an exciting fight."
None of this talk about mentality, of course, changes the stylistic challenges Faber will have to overcome to achieve a different result from that first fight.
Barao (31-1) is still incredibly difficult to take down or move inside on. He's not highly responsive to feints, which Faber's stand-up relies heavily on. He's a strong counterpuncher and he's never been finished in his career.
He's young and (technically) attempting his first title defence, so you expect he'll be hungry - although, he's likely in for an exhaustive three-plus weeks of answering 1,000 variations of the same question: What about Dominick Cruz?
Barao was thousands of miles away and speaking in another language when I interviewed him on Monday night, but he sounded agitated when forced to talk about Cruz and whether he was disappointed about not fighting him.
"There is no need to face or beat Dominick Cruz," Barao said. "I don't need to do that to be seen as the champion. I'm already the champion."
It's hard to imagine Barao coming out flat for his first title defence, but he better erase any remote possibility of it. Faber knows exactly what's at stake on February 1, but he's not desperate about it as you might expect him to be. That feels dangerous.
This article originally appeared on ESPN.com
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