UFC on Fox 22, on Saturday December 17th, will see the grand curtain call to Urijah Faber’s future Hall of Fame career.
It will be an emotional night for “The California Kid,” given his retirement fight is in the brand new Golden 1 Center in his beloved hometown of Sacramento. Announcing his decision on Ariel Helwani’s show, The MMA Hour, Faber said at the time: “I've been waiting for this, and this is actually going to be my last fight. It just feels right to do it in [Sacramento] in this new arena. It just feels like the right time and the right place. I've been waiting for this new arena to be built, I was waiting for that Dominick Cruz opportunity and I feel like this is going to be an epic event and I can't wait to do it in front of the people I love."
Faber later mentioned he had been struggling to get as motivated and passionate for his fights like he did years back, which is to be expected, given he is 37-year-old veteran of over 40 professional fights. As a result, Faber finds himself on a two-fight losing run—the first time he has ever lost consecutive bouts in his storied 13-year career.
Saturday night is the perfect way for Faber to bow out of the fledgling sport he had an immeasurable impact on. Critics will point to Faber’s inability to win UFC gold in four attempts, losing out to long-time foe Dominick Cruz and Brazilian Renan Barao on two occasions apiece. But, Faber broke ground and drew an abundance of interest to the then-unfashionable lower weight classes in the sport. In short, Faber is one of MMA’s finest ambassadors.
Saturday night isn’t just a picture-perfect time to retire due to location, age and fighting form alone—his opponent, Brad Pickett, is the perfect partner for Faber’s final dance in the UFC Octagon.
Upon hearing Faber’s announcement, Pickett immediately messaged Helwani his thoughts on Faber—a message which was later relayed to the public. "When I was offered this fight I was pumped. It has relit a fire in me that I was worried was slowly burning out. Faber is a true pioneer of the sport. He is an excellent role model and a ridiculously talented athlete and I'm humbled that I get to share the Octagon with him in his hometown for his last fight,” Pickett said.
“When I saw your announcement this evening, I texted him straight away letting him know how honoured I was to be his last opponent. I know we're going to put on a good old fashioned scrap to send him out in style. It will be one no one will forget, I'm sure we'll both make sure of that."
The respect is reciprocated, but the fact Pickett shows empathy towards Faber’s inability to maintain his motivation levels to a satisfactory standard is rather telling. Aged 38, “One Punch” has traversed the choppy waters of MMA’s lower weight divisions almost as long as Faber has in a 37-fight career spanning 12 years—with the pair’s careers running at a near-parallel level throughout.
While one was making a splash in King of the Cage, the other was winning the Cage Rage featherweight championship. Both Pickett and Faber truly made their names in the now-defunct WEC, with Pickett competing in the bantamweight division and Faber fighting at featherweight, winning the title, before returning to his natural bantamweight class at WEC 52—the WEC’s penultimate show before having its fighters move over the UFC—beating hardy Japanese brawler Takeya Mizugaki. Somehow, both Pickett and Faber didn’t fight on the same WEC card throughout their respective runs.
Mike Brown, Pickett’s long-time training partner, cornerman and best friend, however, has fought Faber. Twice. Pickett’s not-so-secret weapon Brown earned a shock TKO win over Faber to dethrone the California Kid of his mantle as king of the featherweight division—a two-and-a-half year run which saw him make the most title defences in WEC history.
Faber got his rematch against Brown just seven months later in front of a hometown crowd in Sacramento on November 5th, 2008. Faber broke both hands early in the fight, but fought on with effective use of throwing a plethora of elbows. Faber ultimately lost the decision in his rematch, but his pre-existing fandom swelled tenfold after such a stirring display of heart. Brown, however, did win both fights handily and will know Faber’s game inside and out to Dominick Cruz levels.
Unfathomably, Pickett and Faber had never been linked to a fight against each other until now. While Faber was always on the cusp of, or competing in, title matches, Pickett quietly plugged away in the background in both bantamweight and flyweight divisions—the latter of which was a quick, ill-thought stint. His name may have not been widely talked about, but Pickett’s all-action style has long drawn plaudits—including UFC president Dana White, who once called One Punch one of his favourite fighters to watch.
Pickett’s mixed fortunes in the UFC’s bantamweight division is largely due to his attitude to fighting, taking on all comers, of which includes some of the division’s most dangerous. The Londoner’s approach is very much the epitome of “anytime, anywhere.”
One Punch has beaten tough opponents in Francisco Rivera, Yves Jabouin, Damacio Page, Mike Easton and Neil Seery. Pickett’s UFC debut saw him face future champion Renan Barao in a back-and-forth fight which earned Fight of the Night honours. Since then, he has posted losses to Eddie Wineland, UFC bantamweight interim title challenger Michael McDonald, former UFC flyweight title challenger Ian McCall, Brazilian phenom Thomas Almeida in another back-and-forth fight, as well as submission specialist Iuri Alcantara.
Pickett’s UFC record may look underwhelming on paper, standing at 5-7, but Pickett has been competitive in each bout he’s ever been a part of. Also, it’s worth remembering Pickett is one of two men to have beaten the consensus world pound-for-pound king Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson back in their WEC days not so long ago.
The Brit is no slouch in any department and will bring the fight to Faber during the latter’s final swansong. In fact, despite his deep respect for him, Pickett has never been so motivated and said he wanted to spoil Faber’s party at the UFC fan Q&A in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
“I heard some interviews with him about his retirement,” Pickett told the fans in attendance. “He said for some time he hasn’t really been excited about the matchups he’s been given – he was fighting just to fight. I’ll be honest with you: I was sort of in that same sort of position, like, ‘OK, you’re fighting Henry Briones.’ Oh, all right… You’re fighting this guy, that guy. ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ I accepted it. You just get to a stage where you don’t get excited about matchups either. I was just fighting because it’s in my blood. I want to fight.
“But this one I’m actually really, genuinely excited about. It gives me a little speed in my step. I’m really looking forward to fighting Urijah and it being in his hometown. All the eyes are on him. All the pressure is on him. I’m just there to turn up and spoil the party.
“Obviously me and Urijah have been in the game for a long, long time – since back in the WEC days,” he added. “I’ve always wanted to match up. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before now. I like the fact I’m going to go in there with all eyes on him. It’s in his hometown. It’s all about him, and I’m just there to come through the back way and spoil the party.”
Win lose or draw, Pickett is the best man to see Faber off from competitive mixed martial arts. Both fighters are exciting and somehow have avoided being paired up before, the duo are also renowned as being among the sport’s finest gentlemen, with both of them at similar stages of their lives and careers—with Pickett hinting at a hometown retirement party of his own in the upcoming UFC event in London—as well as the fact there is the Mike Brown element.
Faber’s walkout song “California Love” and Pickett’s Chas & Dave number—two distinctive tunes which resonate with the fighters’ respective places of birth—will signify the iconic end to one of MMA’s finest stalwarts.
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