Urijah Faber is posing one heck of a booking problem for the UFC.
He doesn’t lose outside of title fights. He’s 5-1 in his last six bouts. He won’t fight Alpha Male teammate and current Bantamweight Champion T.J. Dillashaw. He has already defeated most of the UFC bantamweight division’s most notable names, either in the UFC or under the WEC banner. He is one of the company’s most marketable stars and one of its only stars in the smaller weight classes.
In his last bout, Faber defeated Alex “Bruce Leeroy” Caceres, then ranked outside the top 10 a full ten spots below Faber himself. For his next bout, in Japan this September at UFC Fight Night 52, Faber, who has never in his professional career lost a non-title fight, will welcome a newcomer to the octagon.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Faber had actually wanted to fight Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto, a bout that fans had been calling for since back in Yamamoto’s heyday. With “Kid” at 37 years old and winless since 2010, however, it was a fight well past its best-before date but it would have been a fun fight for the fans. Unfortunately, Yamamoto is injured and unable to be cleared for the fight. As a result, Faber will meet Masanori Kanehara in Kanehara’s octagon debit.
Kanehara is no stranger to the world of MMA, and with a record of 23-11-5, Faber will no doubt be taking him seriously. Faber always takes opponents seriously. And here you have the core of the problem: Faber is too good to be a gatekeeper at bantamweight, but since he has beaten almost everyone except former champion Renan Barao, who he lost to in title fights twice, and given that he won’t fight Dillashaw, there is a dearth of opponents available to him.
For now, Kanehara will do. He is a former Sengoku champion who holds wins over Faber’s previously scheduled opponent, Yamamoto, and over Chan Sung Jung, otherwise known as The Korean Zombie. He is coming off a DQ loss, but he should put on a decent fight. Just don’t go expecting an upset.
If former champion Dominick Cruz can successfully return from injury as scheduled, there is a marketable rubber match to be had with Cruz-Faber 3. Otherwise, until Dillashaw loses the belt to someone not named Barao, it might be a while before Faber winds up fighting for a belt again, or even against a highly ranked opponent he hasn’t already beaten. In other words, booking him isn’t going to get any easier any time soon.