Three guys, three warriors. Three friends who train together, visualize strategic savagery and victory.
One in his 20s, one in his 30s and one feeling fit and fine at 40.
This trio of Josh Emmett, Andre Fili and Urijah Faber make for a fierce and formidable unit for UFC. Each has deep regional roots and competes for Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, and they made for a raucous good time Saturday night at Golden 1 Center.
Each prevailed in a decisive first-round knockout, delighting a crowd that came to see blood, chaos and mayhem. Fans of all ages and backgrounds saw their cage heroes triumph in quick order, and then the celebration was on.
Fili is 29. His body is covered in tattoos, each bearing special meaning, including the one on the side of his head. He’s articulate, thoughtful and a terror in the octagon, pacing before pouncing. He’s a nice fellow, punctuated with the nickname of “Touchy” to go with Fili.
Fili grew up in El Dorado County and also lived in other parts of Sacramento. He fought regularly as a youth, and not in an octagon.
“Finally,” he said the other day, “I decided to fight for a career. Made better sense.”
Fili’s added motivation at Golden 1 was that his father saw him compete for the first time, saying amid emotion after his conquest of Sheymon Moraes, “My dad just got out of prison, and I haven’t seen him in about 17 years ...”
Emmett is 34. He was a star wrestler at El Camino High School and Sacramento City College, and then he found mixed martial arts. He smiles often, soaking in the good life that will now include a three-week trip to Europe with his wife, who watches UFC matches through closed and tense fingers.
Emmett recalled a fight not too long ago in which he wondered if he was going to emerge a battered man. He suffered multiple face fractures, lapsed in and out of consciousness in a hospital, and yet worried mostly for his wife and mother. It took months to recover.
He, too, was inspired by the Sacramento fans Saturday, saying, “I fight with Sacramento on my back, on my shoulders. They fuel the fire.”
Emmett’s quick elimination of Mirsad Bektic was his third knockout in four outings.
“I have these quick fights and friends say, ‘Man, I paid 50 bucks for a ticket!’ “ Emmett said with a laugh. “Then, I’d have these long 15-minute wars, blood everywhere, people on the edge of their seats freaking out, and then we’re all OK with those minute fights.”
And then there’s the leader of the pack: Faber. The UFC Hall of Famer turned 40 in May, not that his face, body, energy or spirit shows an ounce of it. He’s the same guy, expressive, passionate and effective. He’s every bit the “California Kid” who embraces his ties to Sacramento and Placer County and UC Davis.
Older fighters lose reflexes, and that translates to disaster in this sport. This concerned those close to Faber, including his mother, who cannot stand to watch matches. She elected to stay home and watch Faber and fiance Jaslyn’s young baby, Cali.
As for reflexes, it was all Faber here. He made quick work of highly touted Ricky Simon, leveling him in 46 seconds, the fastest victory in Faber’s 13-year career.
UFC president Dana White had ribbed Faber for being 40, and then gave it to him again on Twitter, posting, “Congratulations to Urijah ‘The California Middle Aged Guy’ Faber.”
Faber came out of retirement after nearly three years for moments like this. He had a ton to lose. No fighter wants to get pulped in his home town. Faber wasn’t about to let it happen against a 26-year-old, never mind his 15-1 record coming in.
“That was a reason I stopped fighting, because it was hard for me to get a rise,” Faber explained. “It was a perfect night. That was a nice way to win some cash, go home and kiss the baby.”
Fans salivated at the chance to see Faber in a long bout, in a sport big on brutality, skill and endurance.
“I like to give fans a longer show but we have one objective, and that’s to finish the fight as soon as possible,” Faber said.
He added about age, “Not everyone’s the same. I’m not old at 40. My parents were feeding me bee pollen, vinegar, raw apple cider, stuff all over my body, garlic and beet juice since I was a little kid. I’m made for longevity. I’m a late bloomer.”
Faber added that he’s proud to have fought his entire career as a “clean athlete,” and it irritates him that some in this field “are cheating the system.”
What’s next for this trio? More fights, naturally. It’s what they do. The momentum and money is too good.
“I’ve got to take a look,” Faber said of his fighting future. “I’ll go talk to family, talk to the UFC brass.”
Faber will also keep busy in his business ventures. He knows one way to live, and that’s to be busy beyond busy. He especially enjoys being a mentor for Team Alpha Male members who frequent his Sacramento gym.
“Most of it is perspective and mind stuff,” Faber said of mentoring.
He added with a laugh of his career and life in general, “I’m a realistic guy. I’m not delusional left. Give me some time!”
The announced attendance was 10,306, and it felt full with the upper deck closed with drapes. The gate cleared $938,734.
It was a thrill fest for the regional three and a mixed night for the female fighters of local note.
Aspen Ladd of Amador County was defeated in a first-round knockout by Germaine de Randamie. Spectators cascaded boos, convinced it was called too soon.
De Randamie said, “I hit her on the button, and (referee) Herb Dean called it. I rocked her with a second shot. I understand, Sacramento. It’s OK. I understand.”
Brianna Van Buren, who lived in Sacramento before moving to the Bay Area, was triumpahnt in her UFC debut. She’s 5 feet tall, the smallest on the UFC roster, but fierce.
Van Buren defeated Livinha Souza, who said leading up to the fight, “I’m not in the UFC just to compete, to be on social media, sell bikinis or panties. I’m here to beat girls up, build my life and leave a legacy.”
Same with Van Buren, who said after her win, “I want a top-10 (opponent) next. Give me whoever will step up and fight me. Whoever wants to smoke can come get it.”