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Faber: The End of An Era, Birth of Another

"The pressure for me is all about the fact that I’m fighting another person. I’ve try to keep it as primal and simple as possible … I’m going to put out 100% and I believe that I’ve got the stuff to win."

Ambivalence could be running wild inside of Urijah Faber tonight when he embarks on his pro debut at 135 pounds and his curtain call in the WEC. The much-anticipated reinvention of the former featherweight world champion is being tested against Takeya Mizugaki, a precision-punching, aggressive Japanese fighter whose notable wins have come over Jeff Curran, Rani Yahya and Ryota Matsune and whose most memorable bout was a back-and-forth, five-round brawl in 2009 against then-WEC bantamweight kingpin Miguel Torres.

 “This guy embodies what the Japanese are known for: He’s a spirited fighter that likes to battle,” Faber (23-4) said of his opponent. “He’s got really good hands but I don’t see him knocking out guys … I’m not worried about getting knocked out by him because I’ve fought guys like Jose Aldo, Mike Brown and Jens Pulver for five rounds. He’s definitely not going to submit me. It’s going to be a tough, fast-paced fight. He is an accurate puncher and can hang on the ground, as we saw with Rani Yahya, one of the best submission grapplers out there. So my challenge is going to be, ‘How am I going to submit or finish this guy? How am I going to make a statement and dominate?’ Because he’s a tough dude.”

The bout is pivotal to Faber’s quest to become just the third Zuffa fighter ever to win world titles in two different weight classes (following in the footsteps of the legendary Randy Couture, a former UFC light heavyweight and heavyweight champion, and BJ Penn, who won titles at lightweight and welterweight). If “The California Kid” is victorious at The Palms Casino & Hotel, as many expect, he might be next in line for a crack at the bantamweight title, which will officially become a UFC belt come January thanks to the WEC’s pending merger with its sister organization.

 “I’ve known for a long time that I am a ’35 pounder but I was challenging myself; I felt I could be the champ at 145 also,” Faber said. “I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to drop. I could have done it a long time ago but I wanted to go out on a high note at 145. I wanted to reclaim that title and move around at weight classes. But the reality is that I’m smaller even than a lot of the 145 pounders now and I have to stop putting myself at such a disadvantage.

“There is an excitement knowing that I’ll be competing at my best weight. I wrestled in college at 133 pounds (at the University of California-Davis), so it’s going to be a big advantage for me.”

For the bulk of his career, Faber had consumed roughly 5,000 calories a day to reach a walk-around weight of 162 or 163 pounds. Gone are the days of force feeding himself, replaced by more running, a stricter diet and a walk-around weight circa 153 pounds.

Mizugaki (14-4-2), who has a degree in electrical engineering as well as a master’s degree, considers Faber to be an extremely powerful and athletic fighter yet is curious to see if the weight cut compromises Faber’s energy.

“Looking at is his body from his last few fights, I think going down to 135 is going to be a hard cut for him and I think Urijah himself probably doesn't know what to expect,” Mizugaki, a former competitive swordfighter, said through a translator. “Therefore, of course, I have no idea how he will do at this weight class.”

Mizugaki said Faber’s popularity stretches even to the Land of the Rising Sun, and that is part of why he is thrilled with the matchup.

“Urijah is the biggest star in the WEC, the face of the WEC,” Mizugaki said. “He’s actually famous in Japan and he even more famous in America. So I feel like I’m challenging a champion here. That’s the feeling I have for Urijah Faber. And so by fighting Urijah Faber, I have nothing to lose and there are so many things to gain.”

Faber shrugged off insinuations that, with so much at stake, he might be feeling pressure to win.

“Not for me,” said Faber, who began fighting in the WEC back in March 2006. “I mean the pressure for me is all about the fact that I’m fighting another person. I’ve try to keep it as primal and simple as possible … I’m going to put out 100% and I believe that I’ve got the stuff to win. So that’s what it really comes down to. I’ve got one person to really worry about and he’s a very tough opponent and I think it’s a great match-up for me. And I look forward to not only winning but performing and making a fight that’s exciting for the fans.”

Mizugaki said he is drawing inspiration from his spectacular performance against Torres, even though it ended in defeat for the Japanese standout.
“I couldn’t capitalize on (the opportunity) so I was very, very disappointed,” he said. “I always tried to remember the feeling that I came up short, so I put the banners that I used for that fight -- with all my sponsors on it -- I put it right by the bed and I’m looking at it every day. Since that fight, every time I approach any fights, I am always thinking about that feeling of loss and I’m trying to overcome that by putting up a good performance. This is one of the biggest fights in my career and this time, I want to capitalize on this opportunity. I never give up and I just gotta believe in myself.

“We both have a very aggressive fighting style so for sure this fight is going to be intense. I don't like to make predictions so I just have to believe in myself and believe that I am the one who is going to win this fight, and if I can score KO that would even be better.”