Faber’s way

Facing the biggest challenge of his career, Urijah Faber, the fighting pride of Sacramento, cannot lose

photo courtesy of mma

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I used to call it the man-love channel. Surfing basic cable’s upper echelons, seeking the umpteenth rerun of Criminal Minds, I’d suddenly come across two nearly naked men locked in the missionary position. World Extreme Cagefighting! Invariably I’d pause for a few seconds, waiting for one of the fighters to gouge his opponent’s eyes out, or perhaps break his fingers. When that didn’t happen, I’d make a few ribald jokes and move on.

It didn’t seem all that extreme to me, but to be honest, I might have turned the channel even faster if one of the fighters was getting his eyes gouged out. That’s the extreme fighting I remember from the 1990s, blood-soaked bouts so gruesome they were eventually banished from television and declared illegal in many states, including California. I definitely was not a fan.

Urijah Faber changed all that.

For those unfamiliar with the name, Faber is the fighting pride of Sacramento, the former WEC featherweight champion of the world with a record of 27 wins, three losses. Known as the California Kid, due to his tanned, surfer-boy good looks and laid-back nature outside the cage, his fighting spirit inside the cage has earned him fans the world over.

Faber’s star has risen just as cagefighting has emerged from what he calls the “dark ages.” Things are different now. There are more rules to protect the fighters, television covers the matches and personalities like Faber’s are showcased.

He dominated the featherweight division for two years, defending his title nine times, until losing it to Mike Brown in 2008. Now he wants the belt back, and Saturday, April 24, at Arco Arena, he faces one of his toughest opponents yet: 23-year-old Brazilian phenomenon José Aldo, 17-1, who took the featherweight title from Brown last November via technical knockout.

The California Kid, who lost both of his fights with Brown, will have his hands full with Aldo, who in his six WEC fights has defeated all of his opponents with a whirlwind of flying knees, lightning-quick strikes and slithery submission holds. It’s one of the most anticipated bouts of the year.

Then again, Faber’s fights almost always are.

Earlier this month, I spent a week in the former champ’s Midtown gym as he prepared for the title bout. Despite this success, he hasn’t forgotten where he comes from.

That’s Faber’s way.

Practice makes perfect

My first visit to Faber’s gym, Ultimate Fitness, located at 17th and I streets, was on a Monday morning, for MMA pro practice. Nowadays, MMA, “mixed martial arts,” is generally preferred over terms such as “extreme fighting.” In fact, mixed martial arts isn’t just a sport, it’s a lifestyle.

The gym is set in a high-ceilinged showroom and roughly divided into four sections. There’s a boxing ring in the front, a score of hanging and standing heavy bags to the right, a workout area with weights and treadmills behind that, and in a spacious square room in the back, a makeshift fighting cage.

In the back room, 20 mixed martial artists were warming up for practice. Faber arrived a couple of minutes late, clad in gray sweats, ball cap on backwards, fingers frantically punching the touch screen of an iPhone. He held the device up and sent whomever he was communicating with a panoramic view of the scene. Then he quickly doffed his hat and sweats (sorry, girls, he had his workout gear on underneath) and joined the rest of the fighters out on the mats.

The men paired up and formed a circle about the room. Mixed martial arts incorporates a wide variety of fighting styles, including wrestling, Brazilian jujitsu, boxing and muay Thai kickboxing. These styles are generally divided into two broader categories, the stand-up game, which includes muay Thai and boxing, and the ground game, which includes wrestling and jujitsu.

MMA pro practice began with the ground game. Trainer Dave set the ring timer to five minutes, the length of a round. Faber teamed up with longtime training partner Dustin Akbari, 22, and the pair proceeded to practice takedown defense at half-speed. Akbari shot in for a single-leg takedown, Faber sprawled to counter it, moves familiar to anyone who has participated in high-school wrestling, as I have.

However, throw in a little Brazilian jujitsu, and grappling takes on a completely new dimension.

For starters, in high-school or collegiate wrestling, if you find yourself on your back, you’re pinned. Game over. In jujitsu, if you’re on your back, the game has just begun. The embrace I had erroneously perceived as “man love” while channel-surfing was in fact the jujitsu full-guard position. An experienced jujitsu black belt, José Aldo, for example, can be at his most dangerous when he’s on his back with his legs locked tightly around his opponent’s waist.

That’s due to the second element jujitsu adds to traditional grappling, submission holds. No matter how much you want to, you simply can’t choke out your opponent in a high-school wrestling match. In jujitsu, forcing the opponent to submit, or tap out, is how you win, and there are any number of ways to do it: the guillotine, the rear-naked choke, the triangle, the arm bar.

Jujitsu, perhaps because of its emphasis on the legs, also adds an element of fluidity that’s absent from wrestling. It was on full display in the gym as Faber and Akbari traded turns on offense and defense and gradually introduced jujitsu moves into the equation. At times, Faber seemed to float around his training partner, slipping in a standing guillotine here, a rear-naked choke there, as Akbari countered every move. They’d trade off, and eventually, the pair blurred into a Möbius strip of attack and counterattack.

It was a thing of beauty, and multiplied by the nine other pairs of fighters circling the room practicing the same moves, the scene looking like nothing less than a postmodern ballet choreographed by the late George Balanchine and set to the hip-hop score blasting from a portable stereo. “I want to be a millionaire” is the only lyric I can remember.

Later, Faber explained to me what I’d witnessed.

“Basically, it’s drilling,” he said. “A tennis player has to practice their serve over and over and over again. We’re practicing our takedowns, our takedown defense, punches to takedowns, clinch work, all of these things. Dustin started training with me when he was 15 years old. At that time, there wasn’t too many people that wanted to do this sport; it was still illegal in California.”

Back then, seven years ago, the sport of mixed martial arts was just beginning to emerge from the “dark ages.” As it turned out, growing up in Sacramento ideally prepared him for a destiny that didn’t even exist at the time.

Known as the California Kid in the realm of World Extreme Cagefighting, Urijah Faber is famous for his laid-back style outside the cage, his fighting spirit inside the cage.

photo courtesy of mma

Made in California

Faber fits the California Kid pseudonym so precisely, he almost seems like an anachronism. Tan and handsome, he might have stepped out of a Southern California postcard. He’s far more enthusiastic talking about the other fighters in his stable, Team Alpha Male, than himself. He doesn’t swear. Perhaps kids in California used to be like this, but they’re not anymore.

He keeps his medium-length sandy hair tied like Pebbles’ ponytail on The Flintstones, and his shirt is off most of the time. Unlike the taller, more wiry fighters in the WEC’s 145-pound division, Faber is built more like a bull, with wide shoulders and an expansive chest, perfectly tanned.

When he sits, which isn’t that often, Faber goes into relaxation mode, as if he’s trying to conserve energy to accelerate recovery from the most recent workout. The former champ trains pretty much 24-seven, whether he has an upcoming fight or not, and when he does get a chance to rest, he takes full advantage. Occasionally, he’ll yawn mightily, like a lion. He’s come a long way in 30 years.

“I was born in 1979,” he related. “At the time, my parents were both in Santa Barbara, working at a diner, as a waitress and cook. My dad had just become a born-again Christian and started talking to my mom, and they ended up getting married. We lived in a hippie Christian commune-type of environment.”

The hippie regime included sometimes maintaining a raw-food diet and eschewing modern medical techniques, such as vaccination, in favor of more holistic modes of healing. Nowadays, Faber has to consume a tremendous amount of calories to keep up with his workouts, so he’s not strictly a “vegetable guy.” He’s been known to scarf down a burrito every now and then. Nevertheless, raw foods and remedies such as carrot garlic beet juice, wheatgrass juice, balsamic vinegar, bee pollen and honey remain staples in his diet. He has yet to have a vaccination and very rarely resorts to conventional medicine.

Did he get sick a lot as a child? Not that much. “My immune system is pretty good,” he said. Once when he had an earache, his mom poured olive oil into his ear. When he’d get the flu, he was allowed to eat only raw foods till he got better. “That really sucked!”

Faber’s parents moved to the Sacramento area when he was still a toddler, and he’s been here ever since. He ticked off the various locations he lived while growing up like a kid who knows the turf: U Street, 71st Street by Hiram Johnson [High School], Carmichael. He attended Mission Avenue Elementary from kindergarten to the sixth grade, when his parents split up. Faber’s mother moved to Lincoln, and he joined her, dividing time between her and his father, who remained in Carmichael.

While attending junior high in Lincoln, Faber discovered wrestling. The middle school didn’t have a wrestling program per se, but the high-school wrestling coach had set up a feeder program to introduce younger would-be grapplers to the sport. Faber, inspired by his older brother Ryan, who also wrestled in junior high and high school, took to wrestling immediately. By the eighth grade, he started “taking it real serious.”

He went on to break all the wrestling records at Lincoln High School, then, as a walk-on, he was accepted at UC Davis, and he proceeded to break all the wrestling records there. But the problem with collegiate wrestling is that unless you have Olympic aspirations, once you’re done with school, there’s really no place else to go.

At least, there didn’t used to be.

The end of the dark ages

Since the early 1990s, Faber has watched mixed martial arts in its various guises on TV. In those days, the sport was more akin to professional wrestling, except the damage inflicted by the competitors, instead of being scripted, was all too real. Anything went. Eye gouging and finger breaking were legal. Often, the bouts ended with the fighters and the ring covered with blood.

“There was kind of a dark era where people were trying to ban it; they took it off pay-per-view,” Faber recalled. Various state boxing officials across the country, abhorred by the violence but also worried about cagefighting’s growing popularity, moved in to quash the sport.

“The [boxing] officials were trying to get it canceled, and it was only done in a couple of places, so a lot of people forgot about it, because it wasn’t accessible,” he said. Not even cable channels would touch it. Indeed, because the sport was still illegal in California when Faber began fighting in 2003, his first seven bouts took place on Indian reservations.

“What happened,” Faber continued, “was some guys with some brains bought the company, Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta. They started actively working with commissions, and sanctioning [bodies], making rules and regulations to make sure the sport was something that could really grow.”

The Fertittas, at the time executives at the Station Casino in Las Vegas, called their new organization Zuffa, Italian for “brawl.” Formed in 2001, today it encompasses the Ultimate Fighting Championship, with fighters weighing more than 155 pounds, and the WEC, with lighter fighters like Faber, weighing 155 pounds or less.

“The whole changing point for the sport was when they bought time on Spike TV,” Faber continued. “They showcased the personalities of these fighters so people got to know that they weren’t just thugs, they were actual people. It really opened the eyes of the public, and that’s when everything started changing.”

Heavyweights such as Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture (still fighting today at age 46!) commanded most of the attention, but gradually, spurred by the skills and charisma of fighters like Faber, the lighter-weight classes earned respect.

My own changing point came in June of last year, when Faber fought Mike Brown for the second time live on cable. Faber broke his right hand in the first round and dislocated his thumb in the second, but still managed to take Brown the full five rounds. Faber resorted to flying elbows and spinning kicks and actually might have submitted Brown twice, if his mangled mitts had been capable of securing a chokehold.

It was the best fight I’ve ever seen, and I’ve watched a lot of fights—Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Marvin Hagler, Sacramento’s own Tony “The Tiger” Lopez’s come-from-behind victory over Rocky Lockridge at Arco in 1988. What impressed me most were Faber’s synthesis of the martial-arts forms and his unwavering courage. When Brown attempted to take him down, he’d bounce right back up, like a superball. Despite his broken hands, he continued throwing lefts and rights until the end of the fight. He lost by unanimous decision, but that night, Faber won fans the world over.

“It wasn’t anything I was planning,” he confided. “I was just fighting with my fighting spirit and trying to win at all costs. I was handicapped big-time in a fight against a guy who was the world champion and a little big bigger than I was. People really appreciated the spirit and the fighting mentality and never giving up. It was a good experience for me; I watched that fight later and I was proud of it.”

The mixed-martial-arts lifestyle

Faber (left) won fans the world over for a live cable Arco Arena bout last June. Mike Brown broke Faber’s right hand in the first round and dislocated his thumb in the second, but still managed to take Brown the full five rounds. Brown won the fight, but Faber won the hearts and minds.

PHOTO Courtesy of JOSH HEDGES/mma

Faber’s rise through the featherweight ranks was by no means easy. Before he won the title belt from Cole Escovedo in 2006, he was struggling to make ends meet, like any recent college graduate.

“It’s not a glamorous thing, trying to be a mixed martial artist in this day and age,” he said, perhaps not realizing how much he’s changed things. “It’s a lot of hustle. When I first started fighting, I was coaching at UC Davis. I made $7,000 a year. I was coaching kids after practice. I was busing tables at Ink [Eats & Drinks], and I was fighting, so I had four ways of income.”

It wasn’t a grind, even though he was working 16 hours a day. “I didn’t really feel like I was working, other than Ink,” he chuckled. “I was there right when they opened. I lived next door in a little apartment; 220 bucks a month was my rent.”

Faber paused for a moment, abruptly realizing he was dying of thirst. “Hey, Fish, where are those Gatorades?”

“Fish” is Matt Fisher, 40, the co-owner of Ultimate Fitness, who says, “I take care of all the little things and leave the fighting to Faber.” Like many of the people in Faber’s immediate orbit, the U.S. Air Force veteran, martial-arts aficionado and chiropractor describes his meeting with the mixed martial arts as a happy accident. During the process of buying the gym five years ago, they consulted with attorney Jeff Meyer, who today manages 32 fighters as co-owner of MMA Inc., including all of the members of Team Alpha Male, another happy accident.

One of those fighters is Joseph Benavidez, 25, a 135-pound bantamweight who just earned his first title shot after choking out, for the first time ever, Brazilian jujitsu black belt Miguel Torres on March 6. A former high-school wrestling champion from New Mexico with a yearn to break into the fighting game, he tracked Faber down while visiting a friend in Sacramento four years ago. Faber liked what he saw, and Benavidez flew home, packed all his belongings into his 1986 Lincoln Continental, and drove to Sacramento, where’s he’s lived ever since.

I witnessed Benavidez and Faber go at it during the first MMA practice, during the “situation” portion of the workout. The situation was this: In the far corner of the room, 10-foot sections of cage—chain-link fence coated with black plastic set in heavy steel frames—have been arranged to resemble the octagon WEC fights take place in. Faber, Benavidez, Akbari and another fighter of similar weight then took turns pinning each other to the fence.

When Benavidez and Faber squared off, half-speed went out the window. No real punches were thrown, but both fighters have superb grappling skills and a dislike for losing, and the other MMA pros gathered around as the pair continued wrestling past the five-minute mark every time they matched up.

What Faber has done is collect a set of individuals, coaches and fighters, who share what’s come to be known as the mixed-martial-arts lifestyle. It’s not really all that complicated.

“The mixed-martial-arts lifestyle, for me, has been a lifestyle that revolves around the things I like to do,” he said. “For the guys who are really good at it, it’s just like anything, just like surfing, being a lawyer, but the intensity level is up about 10 degrees. My day is working out, hanging out with my buddies and eating good food. It’s almost like the surf mentality for me, except instead of being on the waves, we’re actually on the mats and in the ring.”

You don’t have to be a professional fighter to get in on the scene. Ultimate Fitness offers muay Thai, boxing, jujitsu and grappling classes for all skill levels, and generally half the students are female. Two of them, Michelle Ould and Tonya Evinger, are even pursuing fighting careers.

Art or blood sport?

Of course, anyone who gets in the ring risks potential injury. The rules may have changed, but that doesn’t mean heads don’t get knocked and blood doesn’t spill.

During his first title fight with Mike Brown in 2008, Faber attempted a reverse elbow spin on his opponent, which would have connected if Brown hadn’t thrown a straight right over the elbow that stunned the defending champ. Brown jumped on top of Faber and unleashed a flurry of ground-pounding punches, and the ref called the fight.

“That’s the hardest I’ve ever punched anybody!” Brown said afterward. Faber is aware of the damage such blows to the head can cause.

“I’ve been a huge boxing fan ever since I can remember, and I’ve seen a lot of the guys I look up to do interviews,” he said. “As of late, I watched that Muhammad Ali documentary. Those guys don’t sound so great. The greatest thing about mixed martial arts is that there’s so many different ways to win and so many ways to train. I think a lot of the head-trauma stuff is from these boxers getting hit in the head since they were little kids, repeatedly. It’s not the fights necessarily that are doing the damage, it’s all the training that’s doing the damage.

“For mixed martial arts, we do a ton of training in different realms where head trauma is not the main way to win. I would say, especially in an environment like we have here, we’re all friends, we’re real wary of not trying to take each other’s brains out. A very small part of our training is actually getting hit in the head. The older fighters in the UFC may have some cuts and some scars, but you don’t see much slurred speech and things like that.”

Still, despite the rule changes imposed by Zuffa, mixed-martial-arts contests can still turn quite bloody. Faber’s 2006 victory over Brazilian jujitsu black belt Bibiano Fernandes is a case in point. Faber took Fernandes to the deck and raked a sharp elbow across the Brazilian’s forehead. A split second later, Fernandes’ forehead began gushing blood. His corner threw in the towel, and Faber wasn’t perturbed at all at the blood he’d spilled.

“I’m the type of kid that always had cuts on his knees,” he said. “I think I bled, like, every day as a little kid; it’s not a big deal to me. I played tackle football since I can remember. I wrestled, I played football, I played hockey, I boxed with my buddies on the weekend. I just grew up doing guy stuff. Blood is something you get used to. I respect all these guys in fighting, and they respect me. It’s basically like two kids on the playground when you look at it, except we’re getting paid and a bunch of people are checking us out—and we’re not getting in trouble!”

He paused again, realizing his thirst had yet to be slaked.

“Fish! Where’s that Gatorade? Damn, the guy blew me off! I’m feeling deprived.”

Spurred by the skills and charisma of fighters like Faber, lighter-weight classes of fighters (155 pounds or less) have now gained respect in the sport. Faber is seen here at a weigh-in before a bout.

photo courtesy of mma

Here comes Aldo

If Faber has a secret weapon for his upcoming match with José Aldo, it’s Master Thong. He’s the Asian guy you see wearing dark aviator glasses during Faber’s walk-ins to the ring. A Thailand native, Thong (pronounced “tong”) seemed to never lose. No one in his homeland wanted to fight him anymore, so he moved to Japan, where mixed martial arts was already taking off.

Although Mike Brown comes from a boxing background, muay Thai, commonly known as kickboxing, is the preferred striking method in mixed martial arts, if only because when the legs are added to the mix, the fighter automatically doubles his options.

Thong joined Faber’s team two years ago, and he’s a man of few words, to say the least. I talked to him briefly after one practice, and he professed loathing America’s big buildings and missing the trees of his bucolic homeland. Struggling for something to ask, I told him José Aldo scares the heck out of me.

“He scares me, too!” the master admitted.

On Thursday afternoon, I watched Master Thong pace the former featherweight world champion and another WEC pro I didn’t recognize through a mixed-martial-arts workout that left me nauseous with its primal brutality. If the MMA pro drill I observed earlier resembled Balanchine, this was a window on a fight to the death.

Here’s the drill. The hands are taped, the gloves are on and the intensity is about as high as it can get in a gym. Thong the merciless has set the perpetually ringing timer to six minutes, the object being to psychologically condition the fighters to push beyond the five-minute rounds of a pro match. During that six minutes, each fighter spends two minutes kickboxing with Master Thong, two minutes grappling and ground-pounding a 70-pound throwing dummy, and two minutes wrestling with a 20-pound medicine ball. They take a one-minute break, then repeat the process five more times.

If only it was that simple. Thong is both master of muay Thai and motivational training trickery. When I arrived for the practice and took my perch, he was out on the mat, circling Faber, first to the left, then to the right, wearing padded leather gloves known as focus mitts to absorb Faber’s tremendous punches, barking orders the whole two minutes.

Ten right hands.

Smack! Smack! Smack! Smack! Smack! Smack! Smack! Smack! Smack! Smack!

Ten left hands.

Ten right elbows.

Ten left elbows.


Faber switched to the throwing dummy, and Thong switched to sparring with the fighter I hadn’t seen in the gym before. The dummy had a vaguely humanoid shape which Faber proceeded to pound into an even more vaguely humanoid shape. Straddling it as if he was in Aldo’s closed guard, he pounded its head into the mat 10 times with his right fist, 10 times with his left fist, 10 times with his right elbow and 10 times with his left elbow, each strike preceded by a low, animal growl.

Arrrgh-thump! Arrrgh-thump! Arrrgh-thump! Arrrgh-thump! Arrrgh-thump! Arrrgh-thump! Arrrgh-thump! Arrrgh-thump! Arrrgh-thump! Arrrgh-thump!


Faber moved to the medicine ball and the new guy took on the throwing dummy, freeing up Thong to torment them both at the same time. As Faber wrestled with the 20-pound medicine ball, Thong repeatedly kicked it out from under him, or at least tried to, as the best grappler in the WEC somehow managed to keep his death grip on the ball most of the time.

With 30 seconds to go, the master ordered the students to the heavy bags that stand in the front of the gym, 6 feet tall and big around as oil drums, so heavy they don’t budge when you throw your full weight against them. With everything they had left, both fighters unleashed a flurry of punches and kicks on the bags, as if behind in the final seconds of a championship fight.

Faber’s bronze shoulders spread out like the hood of a cobra has he pummeled the bag, each punch leaving sizeable dents in its black leather surface. With 20 seconds to go, in a final bit of trickery, Thong barked, “Ten seconds!” The fighters, thinking only 10 seconds remained, flailed away for the full 20 seconds as the master stood in front of the fan blowing cool air into the gym from outside, toweling off his face. The buzzer finally sounded, and Faber, steaming with sweat, sat down beside me.

“Who’s that?” I asked, indicating the new guy, who was being wiped down by Thong.

“That’s Chad Mendes,” he beamed. “He’s fighting on the same card as me; he just found out yesterday. He’s the next stud!”

Mendes, I later learned from manager Myers, is a Cal Poly graduate and former three-time national collegiate wrestling finalist. Faber is highly adept at finding wrestlers who are not only talented, but have the will and determination required to make the transition to professional mixed martial arts. He first spotted Mendes while recruiting for UC Davis, and when mixed martial arts began taking off, encouraged the younger fighter to pursue the sport.

The 25-year-old featherweight’s win-loss record is 6-0, the most recent victory coming against Erik Koch by unanimous decision on March 6. Now’s he’s on the undercard of Aldo-Faber, a bout that might go down as one of the greatest fights in MMA history.

Tanned, tattooed and ripped to the bone, Mendes certainly looks up to the task of taking on 15-8 Anthony “Cheesesteak” Morrison on April 24. The buzzer signaling the end of the break between rounds sounded, Master Thong set the timer to six minutes, and the two featherweights, Faber and Mendes, took their places on the mat.

On this go-round, Thong held what’s known as a Thai pad against his body, as Faber aimed high and low kicks at the master’s command. The orders were random at first—one right high kick, one left high kick, two high right kicks—then progressed into the same routine as I witnessed the first Monday during MMA pro practice.

Ten right high kicks.

Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!

Ten left high kicks.

Ten right low kicks.

Ten left low kicks.

Big kick!





Mendes exchanged places with Faber, and the former featherweight champ took up position on the throwing dummy, throwing punches, elbows, knees and his chest at its by now shapeless, flattened form, grunting and growling from some place deep inside, a dark, primordial well most of us, if we’re lucky, will never have to draw upon.

Demonstrating that his hands had healed since the Mike Brown fight, Faber (right) knocked Raphael Assuncao to the deck twice in a January 2010 bout at Arco Arena. Needless to say, Faber won the match.


He used exactly the same technique to submit Raphael Assuncao last January at Arco. Demonstrating his hands have healed since the second Mike Brown fight, Faber knocked the 27-year-old Brazilian to the deck twice, the second time with a straight right in the third round, after which the California Kid pounced and proceeded to pound the jujitsu black belt into the ground with fists and elbows.

Assuncao tried to stand up, gave up his back and Faber weightlessly climbed onboard like a scorpion on a frog, sinking the hooks in and locking his muscled arms around the Brazilian’s neck.

Tap, tap, tap, tap.

Submission by rear-naked choke with three minutes and 45 seconds left in the third and final round.

I was in attendance and can attest to the fact that the roof blew off the place. Whether the same technique will work on Aldo April 24 is a matter of conjecture, but Faber likes his chances.

“I think I’m a really good match-up for Aldo,” he told me during our interview. “On his side, one of the things he’s been able to utilize is the fact that he’s faster than most of the guys he fights. He’s elusive enough to avoid takedowns and implement his own game.

“For me,” he continued, “I’m also very fast; he has to be wary of my punches, because I’ve got powerful punches and a whole arsenal of knees and kicks and elbows. On top of that, I’m the highest caliber wrestler that he’s faced. On top of that, even though he’s a black belt, I’ve got a history of submitting black belts, decorated good black belts.”

Maybe so, I said, but how do you counter those flying knees?

“You get out of the way!” Faber laughed. “Ever see a flying knee when it misses? It looks like a ballerina. I’ve seen it happen to him a couple of times. If you watch his fight against [Chris] Mickle, he does a flying knee that misses, and it looks like he was dancing or skipping. That’s what’s gonna happen.”

For the first time in the history of the WEC, the bout will be broadcast on pay-per-view, evidence, Faber insisted, that Zuffa’s effort to promote the skills and the personalities in the lighter-weight classes is succeeding. The interest in mixed martial arts is surging, and Faber’s riding the crest of the wave.

“I’m thinking that Arco Arena is going to be jampacked, and people all over the nation are going to be watching it on pay-per-view,” he said. “I’m excited about the event; I just can’t wait to get in there and fight.”

Win or lose, Faber’s already made his mark in the mixed martial arts, putting Sacramento on the fighting map at the same time. If he had to do it all over, he wouldn’t change a thing. That’s Faber’s way.

“I’ve grown up in this area,” he said. “I feel like building something here is something I can definitely do to give back to a place that’s been great to me. It really comes down to the fact that this is home for me and there’s no reason to leave.”