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Urijah Faber revs up in his UFC return at Golden 1 Center. Why he’s back at 40

Mixed martial arts fighter Urijah Faber celebrates a victory at Golden 1 Center on Dec. 17, 2016. The Sacramento native returns to fighting Saturday in front of his hometown fans with a bantamweight match against Ricky Simon in UFC Fight Night at Golden 1 Center.
Mixed martial arts fighter Urijah Faber celebrates a victory at Golden 1 Center on Dec. 17, 2016. The Sacramento native returns to fighting Saturday in front of his hometown fans with a bantamweight match against Ricky Simon in UFC Fight Night at Golden 1 Center. Special to The Bee

Urijah Faber cherishes his old relic, a rust bucket on wheels.

It’s a 1973 Chevy Nova, heavy on mileage, primer and throwback appeal. When he starts it, plumes of bluish smoke billow out the back end.

Air conditioning? Please. Just windows rolled down and the wind ripping through Faber’s long locks will do, especially when it’s training season. The cruiser, the UFC bantamweight bruiser and the enduring appeal and charm of both are tied together these days.

The ride carries the fighter, who isn’t ready to ride off into retirement’s mixed martial arts sunset just yet. Faber has tried that, and he is back for another go of blows to the body, head and psyche against a challenger eager to take him apart within a UFC cage in front of a charged-up crowd.

The “California Kid” has deep regional roots, through Sacramento, Orangevale, Placer County and the UC Davis wrestling program, and he will come out of “retirement” on Saturday in front a lot of family, friends and fans. He has a ton to gain, plenty to lose, but he won’t lose an ounce of pride.

Faber will be the co-Main Event of UFC Fight Night at Golden 1 Center when he faces rising bantamweight Ricky Simon, who is 14 years younger and a great deal less experienced with a career mark of 15-1.

Faber has fought for 13 years and is 34-10, seven victories coming by knockout and 19 by submission. He’s eager for a 35-10 record, though he’s deemed an underdog by UFC experts who study such things.

Faber isn’t about to retire the Nova, either. It’s a part of him as much as he is a part of UFC.

“It’s a go-kart, and I’ve crashed it, and it’s been stolen, and it’s beat up, but I love it,” Faber said with a laugh. “Absolutely, I’m like the car. People ask if I’ll fix it up. I’m not. I enjoy the rust and I’ll run it into the ground. I’m not a big materialistic guy. I don’t need fancy clothes and watches and things like that. I like basic things, like the car. I’m a pretty simple guy.”

Some may say Faber defies simple. He is 40 and looks 25.

His is not a Dad bod with rolls. He is chiseled at 5-foot-6 and 135 pounds. He is tireless and still relentless in every workout.

Faber has four fights left on his UFC contract and said he has plenty left to prove and achieve. And he is surrounded by believers.

“We’re in awe,” said Josh Emmett, another local fighter who is on Saturday’s card. “I’m stoked for Urijah. Look at him. He looks great. The guy doesn’t skip a beat. I say he’s a vampire. Dude doesn’t age. Just insane and inspiring.”

Fighters slow down even if their ambition does not. Their reflexes dull over time.

Faber understands this, as he has studied old fight film of himself in recent months. He knows he’s one blow to the head or arm around his neck from defeat, though it goes both ways.

“I feel the same as I always have, and I see it on film, though I’m a little bigger,” Faber said. “I’ll know when it’s time to step away. I attribute my health to a lifetime of good living. My family from the get-go has always been about health and good nutrition, exercise, and it carries on. I feel ready.”

Faber doesn’t have to do this, but then again, he does. Fighters fight. It’s who and what they are.

They come out of retirement more than any in sport. The money can be good, if not great. The union among fighters grows. Faber feels a duty to continue.

“Faber has done so much for so many, and guys like me cannot pay him back,” Emmett said.

Faber didn’t retire as much as he took a took a break after his farewell fight of just over two years ago, a rousing sendoff at Golden 1 Center.

He never formally notified the UFC of his retirement and never left the gym. He lives to compete, to coach, to mentor, to condition.

During his fight sabbatical, Faber threw himself into other challenges: real estate, management, film production. He is the founder and owner of Team Alpha Male, overseeing scores of fighters.

And he’s a dad, the father of baby girl Cali. And he’ll soon be a husband as he and fiancee Jaslyn are in fast-forward life mode. Cali and Jaslyn are regulars to the gym to watch Faber train.

“I’ve always been busy, and busy is the way I operate,” Faber said. “I needed to step away from fighting to focus on things I didn’t have the time or energy or attention span to do before. I always had the inclination that I might come back and that’s why I kept in shape and never left the gym.”

He added, “The desire to compete and train and fight is still there. It’s my passion. I can’t wait any longer because it’s a very small window now at my age. You’ll know when it’s time to walk away when you step into a ring every day with a bunch of young killers and you’re testing those waters. I haven’t been in a Bahamas sipping Mai Tais. I’ve been here, working, on the grind, and that’s the way I like to live.”

Faber thanked a crowd of fans who attended Wednesday’s workout at his Ultimate Fitness complex on Folsom Boulevard. He’s a hero to a lot of these fans, an everyman with a wicked right hand and a simple car in the parking lot.

Fighting has granted Faber with fame. He is recognized across the world, especially in his hometown.

“Just love the guy and what he represents and who and what he is,” said Josh Miller, a 44-year-old contractor based in Sacramento whose 11-year-old son also watched Wednesday’s workout and eagerly awaited an autograph.

Said Faber of his fame, “It feels great to be part of a community, and I’m just a regular dude here in Sacramento. People say hello in the street. I may not know them, but they feel that they know me, and that feels good. I try to represent myself in a fashion that makes everyone proud.”

Joe Davidson has covered sports for The Sacramento Bee since 1988 and is award-winning authority on high school sports, specializing in going behind the scenes. Davidson was a high school athlete in Oregon, where he participated in football and track.
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