By Alistair Hendrie
They say life begins at 40 and Urijah Faber is evidence of that. “The California Kid” may be middle-aged, but in stepping out of retirement on Saturday and decking Ricky Simon in 16 seconds at UFC Sacramento, the former WEC featherweight champion could have earned a huge fight with Henry Cejudo, the UFC flyweight and bantamweight titlist.
“Henry, what’s up dog?” said Faber, taking the mic after the bout. “I remember 10 years ago when you challenged me to a fight as a friendly gesture – I’m down to mix that up.” Cejudo responded in kind, tweeting: “Careful what you wish for my corn-rolled princess. You could be the next legend to bend the knee to Triple C.”
Careful what you wish for my corn-rolled princess. You could be the next legend to bend the knee to Triple C. https://t.co/j5NcVrEoqz
— Henry Cejudo (@HenryCejudo) July 14, 2019
Although Cejudo will be out until early 2020 after undergoing shoulder surgery, Faber has made a shrewd and audacious move by targeting his younger rival, presumably for the 135lbs strap. The Californian understands Cejudo’s market value and gets how the UFC could lap up his own storyline – a legend and UFC Hall of Famer returning from the wilderness, taking on the insurmountable king. After all, this is Faber’s best opportunity to earn gold.
Keep in mind his former Team Alpha Male stablemate, TJ Dillashaw, is suspended for doping. Remember, also, that Dominick Cruz is sidelined with a shoulder injury. Factor in Faber’s immense popularity and Cejudo’s penchant for playing the villain, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a pay-per-view match-up.
Maybe, though, Faber should take Cejudo’s advice and ensure he doesn’t have ideas above his station. Sure, Cejudo is cocky, but that’s only because he’s one of the best. After winning flyweight title bouts against Demetrious Johnson and Dillashaw, and adding bantamweight honours against Marlon Moraes, the 2008 Olympic freestyle wrestling gold medallist is unbeaten in five and building up one of the most formidable records ever seen in the lower-weight classes.
Indeed, the 32-year-old pushes the pace and blends intelligent timing on his shoots with bullish punching power. This is the man who took down Johnson three times. This is the man who came from behind to banish Moraes, roaring back with furious ground-and-pound. His ability to make adjustments, compete to his strengths and force the finish would leave him as an overwhelming favourite against Faber.
Then there’s the list of challengers ahead of Faber. Aljamain Sterling, the New Yorker ranked number two, is a puzzle to solve for anyone and stands as one of most versatile challengers in the division. Russia’s Petr Yan, ranked number four, has also worked his way up.
While Cejudo recovers Faber could instead challenge Cody Stamman or Rafael Assuncao, who is still relevant but was submitted by Faber in 2010. The ageless Faber ought to tread carefully and avoid Brazilian powerhouse Pedro Munhoz. He’ll also need to sidestep gym-mates Cody Garbrandt and Song Yadong.
For now Faber will enjoy his moment, kicking back in Sacramento with his fiancé Jaslyn and daughter Cali, born in March. The veteran should take the time to toast his 12th UFC victory, which was his first TKO in the promotion. It was also his first TKO since 2007.
Judging by those stats, Cejudo is the more destructive and imposing of the two but Faber hasn’t lost his ability to market himself over the years. Sooner or later, he’ll hope to show Cejudo that there’s still life left in the old dog.
Check out more of Alistair Hendrie’s work with his Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women’s MMA in Britain, which features insight from Rosi Sexton, Joanne Calderwood and many more.