Urijah Faber. The icon.

Urijah Faber. The icon.

If you were in the local California MMA scene during the early 2000’s, you knew who Urijah Faber was. MMA was a mess and having access to any prospects, unless it was local, was close to impossible. If you heard his name in passing, it was almost like overhearing a conversation about Bigfoot. “There’s this kid up North and he’s killing everyone. His name is weird. Like, Mariah Taber or something.”

MMA wasn’t legal in California until 2006. Most of Urijah Faber’s career up until then took place on Indian reservations. There was no state sanctioning body regulating the fights. Most American fighters in their 30’s got their start on Indian reservations. The UFC had a lightweight division and discontinued it after UFC 49 in 2005. We wouldn’t see another lightweight fight until UFC 58 in 2006. The 155 pound division at least had a moment in the UFC. Any weight below that had never seen the light of day. Urijah fought at featherweight and bantamweight, so there was no place for him in the modern UFC.

So, Urijah did his thing at Gladiator Challenge, King of the Cage, and WEC.  He won titles in all of those organizations, but was still a relative unknown to the mainstream. Faber was a superstar among fans that saw him compete on the ‘Rez’. He was humble, kind, and fan friendly outside of the cage and a violent finishing machine inside of it. He had the look and the charisma of a superstar, but he just didn’t have the platform for the world to see.

Then, things began to change. Zuffa bought the WEC, MMA got sanctioned in California, and WEC got a good tv deal on Versus in 2007. WEC became a sort of, ‘UFC Lite’. The heavier divisions were removed and they focused strictly on the lighter weight classes. It was thought that smaller weight classes couldn’t compete with the big boys, but Urijah Faber and company changed all of that. Fighters were now able to compete at their natural weight and reaching their full potential. It showed in the fights, too. WEC fights were a high paced and a more technical alternative to the UFC. The lighter weights finally had an identity and Faber was the main reason.

When the UFC merged WEC into the fray, MMA exploded. As of this morning, out of the top 5 guys listed on the pound for pound list, Daniel Cormier is the only fighter who is heavier than 155 pounds. Jose Aldo, Conor McGregor, Demetrious Johnson, and Dominick Cruz are all 155 and below.

It was specifically because of Urijah Faber, that these divisions even exist. Being the promoter that Dana White is, he saw the same things in Faber that all of the small show fans had seen. He knew that Urijah was the kind of guy that fans could get behind. A good looking kid with a million dollar smile, who didn’t get into trouble and was extremely likable. Just as Dana has brought the women’s division to the UFC and revolved it around Ronda Rousey, he first did it with the smaller divisions around Faber.

Here we are days after Faber’s retirement and everything is how it should be. Urijah walks away from an epic career while still on top. The lower weight divisions are in place and talent filled. He is a first ballot UFC Hall of Famer, if there were ballots. Or an actual Hall of Fame.

In 5 years from now, fair-weather fans wont even know that MMA was ever illegal. They will never know about every California fighter getting screwed over by the former head of the CSAC, Armondo Garcia. They won’t have to live with the frustrations that MMA hardcore fans and fighters had to endure for so long. The UFC product is now a well oiled machine and pleasing to the new fan’s eyes. There is a long list of people, who in their own way, helped the sport get to where it’s at. The California Kid is one of those people and he deserves nothing but success.

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