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Andy Furillo: Urijah Faber not ready to give it up yet

Urijah Faber not ready to retire

Sacramento sports legend still shooting for a UFC title
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Sacramento sports legend still shooting for a UFC title

The end is near for Urijah Faber, and even in the brutal world of mixed martial arts, he has sense enough to sense it.

But it’s going to have to wait awhile.

At 36, Faber is 40 fights into a career in which he has won multiple championships and has established a legacy as one of Sacramento’s greatest athletes. He’s made oodles of money, and he’s invested well. He runs a gym in midtown that’s one of the best in the world for what it does and who it trains.

Yet Faber concludes he has more to prove inside the octagon. Before he grapples full time with a world outside it, he has game-planned what he hopes will be a big finish.

His timeline reads as follows:

Beat Frankie Saenz a week from Saturday at UFC 194 in Las Vegas. Line up another big payday or two against top contenders. Then step into the octagon later next year for a final title shot against the winner of January’s UFC bantamweight championship fight between Dominic Cruz and T.J. Dillashaw.

It’s an optimistic itinerary for a fighter who has lost two of his last four bouts and is seven years removed from wearing a championship belt.

Still, Faber, who is 32-8 and has owned three MMA titles, sees himself in the thick of the mix. And the UFC bantamweight rankings have him No. 4 in the world, in pursuit of Dillashaw, the champ, who two months ago departed Faber’s Ultimate Fitness gym to train in Denver, where the air is thinner and colder.

What I don’t want to have is any regrets. I would hate to go into retirement and look back – when I’m actually able to compete like I am right now – and go, ‘Why did I stop?’ … Really, I’m a top contender. There’s no reason to step away from the opportunities when you’re primed and doing big things.

UFC bantamweight figher Urijah Faber

Despite the loss of the gym fees paid by Dillashaw, Faber has managed to avoid the claws of bankruptcy – thanks to the hundreds of thousands of good reasons to keep fighting that continue to pour into his coffers every time he signs a contract. He said Wednesday he will make “a third of a million” for his Dec. 12 bout against Saenz. The payday will be piled atop career earnings that, according to Faber, range upward to “definitely seven, and probably eight, figures.”

That’s only money. Inside Faber’s chest beats the heart of a competitor, and throughout history, athletes have declared that it’s the thrill of the chase – not the race to the bank – that motivates them more than anything.

You tend to believe them. How else to explain the public display of Kobe Bryant’s eroded skills, at any price?

Faber isn’t throwing up any airballs, or losing to the 76ers. But even if he was, he’d probably keep fighting. If you think you’ve still got it, nobody can tell you when you’re done but you.

“What I don’t want to have is any regrets,” Faber said Wednesday while preparing for his fight against Saenz on the undercard of the Jose Aldo-Conor McGregor featherweight championship at the MGM Grand. “I would hate to go into retirement and look back – when I’m actually able to compete like I am right now – and go, ‘Why did I stop?’

32-8 Urijah Faber’s MMA record

“I’m ranked No. 3 (actually fourth) in the world. There are two guys ahead of me I have wins over. Really, I’m a top contender. There’s no reason to step away from the opportunities when you’re primed and doing big things.”

Dillashaw may have traded Sacramento for Denver, but there still are plenty of other fighters who appreciate the offerings at Faber’s gym on I Street. Two of them are headliners next week in Las Vegas, too, as preludes to UFC 194.

On Dec. 10, Paige VanZant will tangle with Rose Namajunas in a women’s strawweight bout in The Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan. The following night at the same venue, Chad Mendes, the UFC’s third-ranked lightweight, will exchange assorted forms of punishment with the No. 2 contender, Frankie Edgar. The winner presumably gets a shot at the Aldo-McGregor survivor.

Pushing, motivating each other

A great synergy has developed among these three fighters who train at Faber’s gym, along with several other UFC top-flighters such as Danny Castillo, Lance Palmer and Joseph Benavidez. Together, they push each other, motivate each other, hold each other accountable for the challenges they face.

Maybe sometime I will relax, and for a second, look back. But I’m in the ‘do’ mode. I’m doing. I’m moving forward. I’m doing things every day that are part of what motivates me.

UFC bantamweight fighter Urijah Faber

At some point, their ranks will be lessened by one former champion, an athlete who rose to the top of his world the same way as forebears such as Max Baer, Kevin Johnson, Dusty Baker, Debbie Meyer and Tony Lopez, to name a few.

“Maybe sometime I will relax, and for a second, look back,” Faber said. “But I’m in the ‘do’ mode. I’m doing. I’m moving forward. I’m doing things every day that are part of what motivates me.”

It could be a couple years, or a couple weeks, before Faber gives himself the time to safely reflect on his athletic accomplishments, without somebody trying to kick him in the head.

It just isn’t right now.

Andy Furillo: 916-321-1141, @andyfurillo

Three nights of fights

Sacramento-area UFC fighters will be competing on consecutive nights in Las Vegas:

  • Thursday, Dec. 10: Paige VanZant (6-1) vs. Rose Namajunas (4-2), strawweights
  • Friday, Dec. 11: Chad Mendes (17-3) vs. Frankie Edgar (18-4-1), featherweights
  • Saturday, Dec. 12: Urijah Faber (32-8) vs. Frankie Saenz (11-2), bantamweights
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