“It’s nice to be recognized and it’s nice for folks to take time to acknowledge what I’ve done in the sport because I honestly haven’t had much time to do that myself,” said Faber, who will be entering the Modern Era wing of the Hall during International Fight Week in Las Vegas on July 6. “I went straight from retirement into business and mentoring and all the other projects I have. So this is a reminder to see that I’ve done some cool things and people are appreciative, so it is nice.”
Last December, the 37-year-old Faber fought for the final time, going out on top in his hometown of Sacramento by defeating Brad Pickett. It was the final victory in a 34-10 career that can’t be reduced to wins and losses, though he did defeat the likes of Dominick Cruz, Jeff Curran, Jens Pulver, Raphael Assuncao, Eddie Wineland and Brian Bowles over the course of 13 years in the sport.
Along the way, Faber also held the WEC featherweight title from 2006 to 2008, engaged in SuperFights with Pulver, Cruz, Jose Aldo, Renan Barao and Frankie Edgar, and established himself as one of the best of this era.
Yet what Faber should be remembered for most is his efforts in exposing the lighter weight classes to the United States audience. As WEC champion after the Zuffa purchase of the promotion, Faber was the one primarily tasked with talking with the media, making appearances, and then stepping into the cage on fight night and wrecking hungry challengers.
It was a successful mission, one he thought about long before it was placed on his shoulders.
“I always envisioned it,” he said of the rise of the lighter weight classes, recalling one day when that vision was starting to come clear. The former UC-Davis wrestling star was early in his pro MMA career and working at a wrestling camp in Lake Tahoe when his car broke down.
“I bought a car for three hundred bucks and I had a cassette tape that you plugged in and it was attached to the CD player,” Faber laughs. “I traded a pair of shorts to one of my students at the wrestling camp for a CD, and the CD was talking about ‘I’m gonna be bigger than this, I’m gonna be bigger than breast implants, I’m gonna be bigger than cigarettes.’
“And I’m driving my car home and it was shaking down the mountain, and I’m just thinking, ‘I’m gonna blow up in this sport,’” he continues. “I had no idea what that looked like. I didn’t know what it meant, but I had the confidence it was gonna happen. So I always believed the lighter weight classes had a big role.”
What Faber didn’t know at the time was that he was going to influence the sport in ways other than what he did in the Octagon. Eventually, his goal wasn’t just to be the best fighter in the world, but to build a team that would dominate the sport. The result was Team Alpha Male.
“My goal was to build a tradition of champions and have the best team in the world, so it’s been something I’ve been thoughtful of,” he said. “It’s also part of the family and part of the community, which is an inspiring thing in its own right, and I enjoy that giving back.”
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A Who’s Who of the sport emerged from the TAM camp over the years, from TJ Dillashaw, Joseph Benavidez and Chad Mendes, to Paige VanZant and Danny Castillo, just to name five of the squad’s standouts. Even tonight, Alpha Male has Josh Emmett and Cynthia Calvillo competing on the UFC 210 card in Buffalo, continuing a tradition that saw Faber not just help his teammates to fight, but to prepare for life outside of competition.
“I don’t know if it’s human nature, but I enjoy being a part of other people’s success,” he said. “I was a Human Development major in college, which makes me, in my opinion, a little more introspective on why things are the way they are and what has made me and other people stand out. And once you understand that stuff, it’s something you can teach, and it’s exciting to be able to pass it on and show the next generation. I’ve seen so many people in this sport fade away and, for me, it’s cool to build something bigger than myself.”
It’s a selfless attitude to say the least, and when you add in his fighting ability, California good looks, and an ability to make anyone he met feel like they were the only person in the room, it’s no surprise that Faber transcended the sport and became a superstar. But he never lost sight of who he was.
“It’s always weird to me when I see somebody that accomplishes something and all of a sudden have an entitlement issue,” he said. “For me, that means insecurity. The reality is, we’re all very important people. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, so I’m honored that people are excited to meet me. It’s important to stay humble, and this is a sport that allows you to stay humble.”
As proof, he talks about one of Team Alpha Male’s rising stars, Joseph Morales.
“He’s unbeaten now, he’s 22, married with a kid on the way, very close to being in the UFC, and he’s known me since he was nine years old and I was a world champion,” Faber said. “But on a given day, I’ll get caught in a sub by him or he’ll land a heavy punch, and you just remember that what goes around comes around.”
Faber laughs, knowing that while his time as a fighter has passed, there is more than enough for him to do as a coach, mentor, and businessman. But no matter what happens in the future, “Fighter” will always be the top line on his resume, and when asked what fight represents who he was when the gloves were on, it’s not one of his big wins, but a loss.
“It was probably the Mike Brown rematch,” he said of the 2009 bout for the WEC featherweight crown Faber lost to Brown seven months earlier. “It was a miserable time in the Octagon, but it was a big learning experience for me.”
And one of the gutsiest performances ever, as Faber broke his right hand in the first round, then dislocated his left thumb shortly thereafter. He still went the distance.
“My right hand was my big hand, and I didn’t have it for four and a half rounds,” he recalled. “Then I dislocated my thumb and had no hands, but I almost caught him in the fifth round with a submission. Just pushing through and having a great fight, that embodies what I was all about.”
He even won over at least one skeptical fan that night.
“I remember going into this bagel shop, and this guy goes, ‘You know, I never was a fan of yours because of the whole pretty boy thing, but after that fight, I really became a fan.’”
Faber couldn’t believe it.
“I’m the least metrosexual dude on the planet,” he said. “I don’t pluck my eyebrows or shave my chest. I don’t fake tan and I barely comb my hair. So ‘pretty boy?’ I didn’t choose the way I look; I just was born. I don’t maintain myself in the least bit, I fight people all day. (Laughs) What makes me a pretty boy? So I just said, ‘Oh, thank you, man,’ and moved on with my day. But that fight embodies the warrior spirit and what I’m all about.”
He was one of a kind.