Nicki Jhabvala
Tuesday November 4th, 2008

At first glance, he may seem more beach than badass. More slack than sedulous. More surfer than striker.

But you can't always believe what you see. Especially with Urijah Faber.

Raised in Sacramento and nicknamed "The California Kid," Faber, 29, appears to be, and even sounds like, the typical surfer dude, golden locks and all. But as the WEC's featherweight kingpin, Mr. West Coast puts up a good front.

To friends and fellow fighters, the champion's laid-back attitude provides a convenient cloak for his cutthroat work ethic and persistence. For his 21 victims, Faber's nonchalance may seem simply laughable given his ferocity has in the cage. In short, he is one of the, if not the, most feared fighter among the lighter weights.

"My pressure mostly comes from myself," he said before his last victory over Jens Pulver. "I always believed when I was a kid that I was a tough kid and no one was going to beat me up. At the time, it was probably unrealistic, but now, it's something I've geared my life toward. The pressure's been there since I decided to be the kind of guy that is a champion."

In short, his life is training, and it has been for a long time. A former wrestler at the UC Davis, Faber (21-1) worked his way from being a walk-on to a scholarship athlete, posting the school's all-time wins record and becaming a two-time NCAA Divsion I qualifier all the while. Since swiching to MMA, he's become one of the top pound-for-pound fighters and the proud owner of three world titles in different organizations.

With his success in the WEC, some sponsorships, including one with action sports apparel company No Fear, have come his way. But, perhaps, the biggest show of his MMA success comes in his two Sacramento gyms -- places that could easily be confused for his second home.


"It's kind of a mentality of not taking the easy way out," he said prior to his last bout. "And it's part of my personality."

On Nov. 5, Faber gets another chance to show the fruits of his labor. For the sixth time, he'll defend his belt against Mike Brown (19-4), at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Fla., (Versus 8 p.m. ET) -- a bout that was originally scheduled to take place Sept. 10 but had to be postponed because of Hurricane Ike.

The near-two-month delay, however, may have been a godsend for the titleholder. By September, even though three months had past since his fight with Pulver, Faber was still feeling the aches and pains of the five-round contest. His hand was beyond bruised, his groin pulled, his nose busted and all had just begun the healing phase. In sports clichés, he wasn't quite "100 percent." More like 90.

Now back to full-strength and eager for the deferred payday to arrive, the champ is ready to offer up the standard "This is most important fight of my career."

Sure, nearly every fighter spits out the line, but this time Faber may be on to something. In facing Brown, another stalwart figure in the cage, the contest may just be one the most telling and weighty in Faber's already storied career. Not only would it serve as another successful title defense (for comparison's sake, Matt Hughes and Tito Ortiz defended their UFC belts five times) and another tally in the win column, but it may also bring him a step closer to reigning alongside other big-name champions. Maybe.

Fighting in the WEC, Faber's relentlessness in the cage rarely receives its due. Not in comparison to heavier fighters, anyway. The Chuck Liddells. The Anderson Silvas. The "Rampages" and the "Prodigies." The UFC fighters.

Against Pulver, Faber, known primary for his ground game, unleashed a flurry of punches and kicks to the body for a unanimous-decision victory. His array of skills seemed to shock some as he not only secured his title -- again -- but also inked himself as the face of the promotion.

"It was the first time I've gone five rounds, and I know that I can go five rounds because I go above and beyond that in practice all the time," Faber said. "But on top of that, [Pulver's] an established figure in the sport, he's known for his striking and people had been somewhat suspect of me because my fights have been so short that you don't really get to see too much of me. So, it was good to showcase some of my strengths that people hadn't really seen before."

Unfortunately, the victory may have also secured Faber a place among the oft overlooked.

The WEC, which has lived under the Zuffa umbrella for nearly two years, recently announced it would fold its 205- and 185-pound weight divisions into the UFC in December to accent the newer promotion's lighter fighters. A seemingly golden move for guys like Faber may just be a slap in the face for the smaller grapplers though. Could "Highlighting the lighter fighters" may just be code for locking them out of the more popular and more lucrative UFC?

"I think it's good that they're taking out those weight classes because the thing that's unique about WEC is the lighter weight guys and I think it'll stop people from saying it's the WEC vs. the UFC," Faber said. "They're different animals. I think they're going to be able to focus on putting a lot more energy into the smaller weight classes, which are absent in the UFC."

As time wanes before his bout with Brown on Wednesday, Faber struggles to shake his laid-back demeanor, awkwardly providing the typical pre-fight banter. He knows it will be a tough fight -- "[Brown's] solid in all the components of MMA: boxing, kick boxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling," Faber said.

He knows he has to contain Brown's physicality -- "I know he uses that physical prowess to take advantage of some of the guys, but I don't think that's going to be an issue for me."

He knows he has to counter Brown's skills by one-upping them with his own -- I'm going to be just a little bit better."

And he knows he can't conceal the unwieldy task ahead.

"There are individuals that stand out aside from the fighting and I think I transcend a little bit, but being on top is the biggest deal right now," he said. "I'm helping to build something that will, hopefully be huge at some point with the WEC."

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