Nevada has been pretty good to the “California Kid.”
Urijah Faber has won seven matches in the neighboring state and hopes to improve his record to 8-1 on Saturday night in Las Vegas, where he’ll meet Francisco Rivera in the UFC Octagon as the top draw on the Fox Sports 1 preliminary card that is part of the larger UFC 181 pay-per-view package.
Faber (31-7) beat Alex Caceres by submission with a rear-naked choke on July 5 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, the same place where he will face Rivera (10-3) in a bantamweight battle.
“I like Vegas,” Faber said after one of his final training sessions at his Ultimate Fitness Gym in downtown Sacramento. “The results there have been good and it’s been like a second home. I’m excited to be back there.”
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Oddsmakers in Las Vegas list Faber as the biggest favorite on the card, which includes title fights between welterweight champion Johnny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler, and lightweight champion Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez.
But underdogs have won before, as Faber knows, having watched good friend and training partner TJ Dillashaw shock the MMA world in May by taking the bantamweight title from heavy favorite Renan Barao. So Faber doesn’t much care about the betting line. Catch a gloved hand on the chin just right and the real odds are you’ll get knocked out.
“(Rivera) is a dangerous guy who has one-punch knockout power,” Faber said. “It’s not that he’s necessarily wild, he just likes to throw haymakers and wants to clean my clock.”
But rather than work on defense, Faber said he continues to refine his offense. The third-ranked Faber said he understands that another impressive victory will likely put him on the fast track to facing former champs Dominick Cruz or Barao. Faber lost to both the last time he faced them.
“It will be curious to see what TJ and Cruz do, when and where they meet,” Faber said. “But I’ve got my eye on (Cruz). With Barao, we’ll have to see if he can make weight (135 pounds).”
Cruz was the bantamweight titleholder before injuries forced him to relinquish the belt to Barao, who then lost it to Dillashaw. A title fight between Cruz and Dillashaw is likely in early 2015. Barao and Dillashaw were scheduled for a rematch Aug. 30 in Sacramento, but Barao failed to make weight and Dillashaw fought and defeated a game Joe Soto, a last-minute replacement.
“The weight class is starting to shake out,” Faber said. “But I respect everyone.”
Mark Billingsley covers MMA and the UFC for The Bee. Reach him at email@example.com or @editorwriter001.