LAS VEGAS, Nev. - Urijah (The California Kid) Faber finds himself in an unaccustomed position Saturday night at UFC 175 — on the preliminary card.
Faber, a former WEC champion who has challenged for a UFC championship belt three times, has never lost a non-title bout and was in the main event last time out at UFC 169. But the 35-year-old bantamweight from Sacramento, currently ranked second among 135-pound contenders, find himself topping the televised preliminaries before the pay-per-view portion of the show at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
Middleweight champion Chris Weidman meets former light-heavyweight title-holder Lyoto (The Dragon) Machida of Brazil in the main event while women's bantamweight champion (Rowdy) Ronda Rousey takes on Alexis Davis, a native of Port Colborne, Ont., who fights out of San Jose.
Faber faces No. 12 Alex (Bruce Leroy) Caceres in a fight where a win means much more to the up-and-coming Caceres than the veteran Faber.
Having an established star like Faber (30-7) lead into the pay-per-view is good for the UFC.
Faber has no complaints, knowing the prelim finale will draw plenty of viewers on free TV. A canny businessman, Faber understands the value of keeping his brand in the spotlight.
"I feel great," said the five-foot-six fighter with a megawatt smile and dimple in his chin. "It's kind of a strange thing. I've gotten to the point now where I'm one of the veterans of the sport.
"I've had the same lifestyle since I was a little kid — basically do your homework, hang out with your buddies and play your sports. So I'm living the same life. To be the crafty old veteran at this point is kind of funny. ... I'm 35 now and feeling as fresh as a daisy, ready to rock and roll. It's good position to be in."
The matchup was apparently triggered by a fan on social media. The 26-year-old Caceres took up the cause and Faber accepted the bout when the UFC offered it.
"It's smart to want to fight me," said Faber. "I mean, the guy doesn't have anything to lose. I'm one of the bigger names in the sport."
But as UFC president Dana White often says, be careful of what you wish for. Faber is a 15-1 favourite to put Caceres in his place, in the eyes of some oddsmakers.
Rather than titles, Faber talks about being the best fighter he can be these days. But he believes the two can come together, even if the championship belt currently belongs to teammate T.J. Dillashaw.
"I feel like I still haven't had my best performance," Faber said. "When I do, I feel like I'll be the champion."
Caceres (10-5 with one no contest) has won four of his last five fights. It could have been five straight but his split decision win over Kyung Ho Kang in March was changed to a no contest after he tested positive for marijuana. That earned him a six-month suspension.
Faber is coming off a second defeat at the hands of Brazil's Renan Barao, who lost his bantamweight title to Dillashaw one fight later.
"I don't like to dwell on such," Faber said of his loss. "As soon as that one was over, it was on to the next one, I can't really change the past, It was really unfortunate because I definitely had more fight in me. I'm a guy that's known for being able to push through adversity. I didn't get a chance to show that. It could have been one of my greatest fights ... So it's onto the next one. I'll make this next one my greatest fight."
Barao knocked Faber out in the first round at UFC 169 in February what some — including White — thought was a premature stoppage. Faber was getting the worst of it on the ground, but gave referee Herb Dean a thumbs up to show he was still on top of things. Dean missed the gesture and stepped in to stop the fight.
Barao, filling in for the injured Dominick Cruz, won a five-round decision over Faber at UFC 149 in Calgary in July 2012 to win the interim bantamweight title. Faber suffered a broken rib early in the fight.
A former featherweight champion in the WEC, Faber was the longtime face of MMA's lighter weight classes. But he lost his 145-pound crown to Mike Brown in November 2008 and was beaten in a rematch seven months later.
After dropping an April 2010 decision to champion Jose Aldo, who had dethroned Brown, Faber dropped down to 135 pounds.
He has gone 7-3 since (6-3 in the UFC) with wins over Takeya Mizugaki, Eddie Wineland, Brian Bowles, Canadian Ivan Menjivar, Scott Jorgensen, Iuri Alcantara and Michael McDonald and title losses to Dominick Cruz and Barao.
Faber, who made his pro debut in November 2003, may have slipped down the bantamweight mountain slightly but he remains active. Saturday marks his sixth fight in a little more than 16 months.
"I'm pumped to be back," he said.
Dillashaw winning the bantamweight title has changed the 135-pound landscape. Especially since the two train together as part of Team Alpha Male at Faber's gym.
"I couldn't be more excited about that," Faber said of the Dillashaw win. "It was a big deal for our team and for myself, a guy that I helped bring up.
"People have asked about us fighting and I don't really want to do that."
Faber talks of "exciting fights," citing Cruz, Barao and Kid Yamamoto. "Just keep winning and putting out my best performance."
But he doesn't rule out a Dillashaw clash.
"If it comes to a point where we need to cross that bridge, it's going to be a discussion that he and I are going to have to have with our bosses Dana and Lorenzo (UFC president Dana White and co-owner Lorenzo Feritta)."
Cruz, who has not fought since October 2011 and had to give up his title due to his knee injury layoff, will have problems getting his championship belt back, according to Faber.
"I don't think he'll do very well against T.J.," said Faber.
The California Kid speaks warmly about Caceres, citing his recent win streak and positive if somewhat quirky outlook on life.
"I kind of like the guy. But I'm going to beat the crap out of him."
Away from the cage, Faber has proved to be one of the more successful fighter-entrepreneurs. A graduate of the University of California, Davis, where he was a standout wrestler when not working on a degree in human development, is on his second clothing company (Torque), has written a book ("The Laws of the Rings") and has had several other business ventures, usually drawing in family and friends to help.
In addition to his Ultimate Fitness gym in Sacramento, Faber also has a private gym on the California coast.
A new project, in conjunction with photographer Sam Hon, is Optical Panacea which combines the imagery of a background photo with a series of action shots in MMA and other sports.
Faber is also involved in the MMA Draft combine, which serves as a showcase for amateur athletes who want to get into fighting.
The many ribbons to his bow may explain why Faber has no plans to follow Randy (The Natural) Couture and fight into his 40s.
"I have no desire to do that," he said. "But could I? Of course I could, if I put my mind to it. But I don't think that's the plan for me"
NOTES — Faber will have veteran fighter Martin (The Hitman) Kampmann in his corner as coach. Former coach Duane (Bang) Ludwig is taking advantage of his successful run at Team Alpha Male to open his own gym.