Five Rounds: How far can Urijah Faber take this second act?

MMA

UFC Hall of Famer Urijah Faber returned to the Octagon on Saturday in his hometown of Sacramento as a heavy underdog against rising prospect Ricky Simon. He left the victor following an impressive first-round TKO finish. The 40-year-old Faber was asked following the win for his next step, and he wasn’t shy in his ambitions.

“I think (UFC bantamweight champion) Henry Cejudo called me out a little bit ago,” Faber told Michael Bisping. “I heard Dana White said I was old. I know Dana White was old when he was 40, but I’m a young man.”

What does Faber have left? Our MMA panel — Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim — give their answer on that and other questions from UFC Fight Night.


How far can Urijah Faber take this second act?

Okamoto: I’m starting to really question whether the man is truly 40 years old. And I can’t be the only one. The abs. The locks. The boyish good looks. Who looks like this at age 40? I believe Faber can still have very meaningful fights, even at age 40, and I think if the cards fall right, the big one is TJ Dillashaw‘s return in 2021. That’s a long ways down the road, but I know for a fact Faber would love to have it, and it’s one of (if not the) biggest fights he could still get, because of the history there.

I don’t think he will make it back to a championship fight. I just don’t. There are too many names ahead of him, and quite frankly, I don’t want to see Faber insert himself into the 135-pound title “mix.” Take a fun fight here and there and depending on what happens, land that big payday in 2021 against Dillashaw.

Raimondi: This comeback victory opens up major doors for Faber. Simon was 15-1, a highly regarded 26-year-old prospect coming in. He was the favorite; Faber was the underdog in his hometown. At 40 years old, Faber was able to finish Simon in 46 seconds, the fastest knockout of his career. Wild stuff. This should lead to a big fight next for Faber, but it’s unclear what that fight is. Maybe a rematch with Renan Barao or Eddie Wineland?

A bantamweight title shot is still a ways off, even though he and Henry Cejudo have expressed interest in it. Faber, though, is a UFC Hall of Famer, a proven ticket seller and obviously still has plenty of game left. I’m not sure if he should get thrown in with a top-10 opponent just yet, but if he wins one more he could be in that mix. If he wins two more, maybe that title talk is not completely crazy.

Wagenheim: Urijah Faber rode off into the sunset three years ago, and less than a year later he was in the UFC Hall of Fame, a fitting gold star for his legacy. Watching him walk out of his corner Saturday to meet 15-1 rising featherweight Ricky Simon, I couldn’t help but think: Why is Urijah, at age 40, risking the memory of that glorious swansong by coming ba–

And then he dropped Simon with that big overhand, swarmed him for the quick finish and The California Kid had topped himself. He didn’t stop there, though. Faber immediately called out two-division champion Henry Cejudo. Why wait?

Does Faber deserve a shot at Cejudo’s bantamweight belt? Of course not. But UFC matchmaking does like to follow the money. So I wouldn’t be shocked if Faber earns some green. I would be surprised, however, if he earns gold. The quick KO of Simon was impressive, but as Urijah himself said afterward, there are levels to this game. Simon is a long elevator ride below the level of Cejudo — at this point in his career, anyway, since he’s young — and a 40-year-old Faber is not on the champ’s penthouse level, either. There are more deserving challengers than Urijah. Can’t fault the callout, though.


Okamoto: I mean, she could knock her out. That’s the potential problem. She is that talented. She does hit that hard. She’s experienced. She’s fought Nunes before. Of course, she would likely go in as a sizable underdog, but she has the size to deal with Nunes’ athleticism and she’s got numerous weapons on the feet. She can strike in the clinch, and at a distance. She has good cardio. Her takedown defense has been on point in recent years. She’s the rightful No. 1 contender. And even though I probably won’t bet on Nunes’ title reign coming to an end, I’m not counting de Randamie out at all if they cross paths for the title.

Raimondi: De Randamie has taken a lot of heat over the years, some of which is deserved. However you feel about her unwillingness to fight Cris Cyborg, “The Iron Lady” is one heck of a fighter. If that fight with Nunes for the bantamweight title is next, de Randamie has as good a chance as anyone. GDR will bring a the reach advantage, her exceptional striking skills from years of kickboxing and an evolving MMA game with her to that bout. She has improved a great deal since Nunes beat her in 2013, which was her last loss.
Now, Nunes has gotten better, too. Of course. But right now, when you look at the women’s bantamweight rankings, there doesn’t seem like anyone better equipped at taking on Nunes on the feet than de Randamie.

Wagenheim: Germaine de Randamie was 37-0 as a professional kickboxer, winning four world championships. She can throw hands. But two years after she left kickboxing for good in 2011, she stepped into the UFC cage with Amanda Nunes, and it didn’t go well for the Dutchwoman. And the Nunes who dealt de Randamie a first-round TKO loss was not the same fighter as the Nunes of today. “The Lioness” has elevated her game dramatically, and I do not envision de Randamie presenting any problems that she didn’t the first time. Which were none.

I’m fine with de Randamie getting the title fight she earned, though, if the UFC is willing to give a shot to an ex-champ the promotion stripped for refusing to take on a challenge. But I’d be more excited to watch Nunes defend her 145-pound belt in a rematch with Cris Cyborg — the woman Germaine de Randamie refused to fight.


Did Herb Dean make the correct stoppage call?

Okamoto: Look, trying to critique a fight stoppage is tough — because knowing when to stop a fight is tough. I want referees to err on the side of caution, in general. Better safe than sorry, right? In this case, though, I do think Dean stopped it too soon. I think Dean reacted to the way Ladd initially went down, which isn’t wrong in and of itself, but she didn’t go completely limp. She didn’t face plant. She actually caught herself and was in the process of sitting up and slowly reaching for a leg. Does the result of that fight change if Dean lets it go a few more seconds? Probably not, honestly. But that’s a main event, with a title shot potentially on the line. The stoppage was early.

Raimondi: At first, I thought absolutely not. It seemed like Aspen Ladd still had fight in her. She turned to face Germaine de Randamie and was looking to defend, perhaps even attack with a takedown from the seated position. After watching it a few more times, I can understand what referee Herb Dean saw. Right after the knockdown punch from de Randamie, Ladd was on her hands and knees, facing away, not defending herself for the oncoming punches. Dean stepped in as de Randamie was going for a followup shot, which she missed. By the time Dean could fully get in between then, Ladd was defending.

It was a split-second call by Dean — these are very difficult to make. I can understand the fans and Ladd wanting just a bit more time. She seemed to recover fairly quickly from the initial punch. But it was clear Dean was trying to protect her from taking any unnecessary damage. I can’t fault him for that, I just wish these siutations were a bit more consistent in MMA as far as when fights get stopped and when the damaged fighter is allowed to press on.

Wagenheim: Herb Dean is the best referee in the sport, and I’ll live with his judgment. Could he have given Aspen Ladd a chance to defend herself on the ground? Maybe, from where I was sitting. But Dean was a lot closer than I was, and he could see things the rest of us could not. A ref’s job is to protect the fighters, and unless it’s a blatant mistake — this was far from that — I’m not going to kill Herb over a stoppage call like this. I’m a lot less bothered by what might be an early stoppage than I am by a late stoppage. For me, refs should always err on the side of safety.


How much did Ladd’s stock drop with tonight’s result?

Okamoto: Not much, in my opinion. She was kind of playing with house money. This was a major step up in competition for Ladd, and it’s easy to simply chalk it up to “too much, too soon.” You also have some controversy in the stoppage, although I personally don’t put a whole lot of stock into that. Whether you think the stoppage was early or not, the fact is Ladd got absolutely rocked within the first 20 seconds of the fight. She wasn’t ready for this spot, or this opponent. That doesn’t mean her ceiling is any lower than it was going into last weekend. I still have incredibly high hopes for Ladd. You just hope the disappointment and damage she suffered in this bout doesn’t set her too far back.

Raimondi: An incremental drop, if that. Ladd is 24 years old. She’s not even close to her athletic prime yet. There’s a solid chance she is a future champion in the UFC. Ladd is well-rounded and has great killer instinct, which you can’t really teach. She got caught by a skilled kickboxer with a world of combat sports experience who is more than a decade older than her. It happens. No one stays undefeated forever, for the most part.

All Ladd needs is one more win to get back on track and two more could put her in position for a title shot. This is only a minor setback, especially considering many thought the fight should have continued when referee Herb Dean jumped in to stop it after de Randamie’s knockdown punch. The one part of Ladd’s game that needs sharpening immediately is the weight cut. Even if she was nervous on the scale, leading to shivering and some frightening seconds, this is an issue she needs to kick. That’s much more of a red flag than a knockout loss to de Randamie.

Wagenheim: Main events are supposed to provide answers, but this one produced nothing but questions, at least on the Aspen Ladd side after seeing her knocked out with the first punch Germaine de Randamie threw.

Did the UFC push the 24-year-old too fast? There certainly was an experience gap between her and her 35-year-old opponent, who has been fighting as a professional since Ladd was 5 years old. But Ladd was highly ranked, so at some point she has to be called upon to prove what she’s got. De Randamie had been off for over a year and had fought just once since February 2017. If there was a time to get in with a veteran, this was it. (Until it wasn’t.)

How much does this loss set Ladd back in the bantamweight division? The direct answer is that one loss is not the end of the world; it’s how a fighter responds that matters in the long run. But I question whether bantamweight is the place for Aspen in the first place. Did you see her on the scale Friday morning, shivering and teetering and not looking like someone who should be in a cage fight in 18 hours? What effect did that excruciating weight cut have on her? Tough to say after just 16 seconds, but no one will ever convince me that a fighter who looks like that at weigh-ins can show up on fight night at her or his best.


What was your favorite fight of the night?

Okamoto: Faber vs. Simon. I’m a sucker, OK. Close second is Josh Emmett vs. Mirsad Bektic. Close third is Andre Fili vs. Sheymon Moraes. But I was fortunate enough to be Octagonside for the co-main event and if I’m being honest, the whole thing warmed my heart. The walkout. The knockout. I’ve been covering this sport for 10 years, I’ve seen Faber fight in Sacramento numerous times. It was like a step back in time for me. I loved it.

Raimondi: When Ryan Hall is fighting, I cannot look away. So, I’d have to choose Hall’s unanimous decision win over Darren Elkins here. No one in the UFC fights like Hall, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu savant. He is a throwback to another era of MMA, when specialists ruled the roost. Yet, it’s clear Hall has made great strides in his striking. He dropped Elkins with a spinning back kick and straight lefts.

Hall is a master strategist, does not get hit much and if he doesn’t get you to the ground, he might just hit you in the head with something spinning unorthodox. The fans booed him a bit, because he wouldn’t be roped into a brawl. But as far as I’m concerned, Hall is appointment viewing.

Wagenheim:: Give me more Ryan Hall fights. How about next Saturday? How about tomorrow? I’ll watch. For me, there’s endless intrigue in the unorthodox, whether in martial arts or in the arts in general. Hall looks like he’s creating in the moment, splashing on the canvas like a painter, improvising like he’s in a jazz club. He’s frustrating to fight, I know, but that’s part of his appeal. Elite tough guys like Darren Elkins — a 35-year-old veteran of 31 previous pro fights — get in there with the skinny, lackadaisical, sleepy-eyed Hall and don’t know how to attack him or even defend themselves. Elkins was so mesmerized by Hall’s seemingly helter-skelter grappling forays that he got hurt first by a big kick, then by a big punch. Hall put together a complete fight, and I was completely entertained.

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