The road to the UFC bantamweight title still runs through Urijah Faber.
Just in case we forgot, we were reminded of that fact in emphatic fashion on Saturday night as Faber battered and tattered 22-year-old upstart Michael McDonald en route to a second-round submission victory at UFC on Fox 9.
The win was important for Faber on at least three fronts. Not only did it secure probable No. 1 contender status and give him a big lift in his hometown of Sacramento, but it proved that at 34 years old, he’s still as good as anyone in the world at 135 pounds.
Well, almost anyone.
If there’s one thing that could keep Faber from claiming the next shot at the bantamweight strap, it’s that he’s already lost to both champion Dominick Cruz and interim champ Renan Barao. It would also take a bit of sitting on the sideline for Faber, since Cruz and Barao are scheduled to meet Feb. 1 in a title unification bout.
To hear him tell it, Faber wouldn’t mind the wait.
“I would love to fight either of those guys…,” he said at the post-fight news conference. “I’m ready to fight anyone at any time. Dana (White) knows that, everybody knows that. I’ll fight Godzilla, I’ll fight King Kong, I don’t care. I’m a little delusional about stuff (like that).”
Indeed, Faber has done everything he could to distance himself from those losses during 2013. His victory over McDonald capped a year that saw him go 4-0, including three impressive stoppages. In a bantamweight division not known for its depth, his popularity alone will make him a compelling option for UFC brass.
“Faber’s in this Vitor (Belfort) zone right now,” said White at the presser. “The older he gets, the better get gets. If you look at how good McDonald really is—and people were so excited for this fight—he literally shut Michael down for the entire fight.”
Anyone who’d written Faber off in recent years—he went 5-5 from 2008-12—got served another reminder that he’s more than just a pretty face as he drubbed McDonald, who came into the fight as a consensus top-five bantamweight.
Prior to the bout, McDonald said he expected to have the edge everywhere, but instead Faber proved to have the far better all-around game. His best weapon was a winging overhand right, which he landed with authority early and often.
He visibly hurt McDonald for the first time a minute and 13 seconds into the second round, sticking him with a right hand and a grazing front kick that momentarily put him on the run. As Faber pursued, McDonald blunted his attack with a right hook of his own and managed to recover.
Two minutes later he was not so lucky. Faber stumbled an advancing McDonald with another overhand to the temple, then unloaded with a series of rights as he pushed a dazed McDonald into the cage. When McDonald hit the ground, Faber caught him with a guillotine choke that elicited a tap.
The win over McDonald pushed him to 30-6 and preserved his bragging rights for having never lost a non-title fight. Dating back to Nov. 2008, however, he’s 0-5 in championship bouts.
If he gets a sixth, the former WEC featherweight king will have to approach it assuming it's his last chance at UFC gold.
For now, though, Faber still holds more cards than any other contender in the bantamweight division.