Thursday, June 30, 2011 | 9:30 p.m.
Let’s say the UFC decided to hold an autograph session for UFC 132 main event competitors Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber together at the same time.
Imagine that in this make-believe scenario, fans arrive and are told they could choose only one of the two fighters to meet. Out of the two resulting lines, there’s little doubt the one on Faber’s side would stretch significantly longer.
Despite entering their bantamweight title fight as the favorite and having a unanimously higher ranking attached to his name, Cruz’s popularity still pales in comparison to Faber’s. It’s an inconvenient truth that the 25-year old from San Diego won’t even try to argue.
“He gets a lot of attention,” Cruz said, “but I’m the champion. It’s my time.”
Cruz (17-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) has won his last eight fights in a row, including a streak of three to take and defend the WEC bantamweight championship, heading into Saturday’s bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
But for all the talk about his elusiveness and speed, there’s even more about his one loss to the 32-year old Faber (25-4 MMA, 1-0 UFC) four years ago and the resulting war of words.
“Ever since I won the title, it’s been, ‘when are you going to fight Urijah?’” Cruz said. “That’s all anyone ever asks. I’m tired of hearing it.”
At the basis of the well-publicized feud between Cruz and Faber, one could make a fair assumption that it’s kept its intensity for one reason — Each fighter has something the other desperately longs for.
Cruz has the 135-pound UFC belt by virtue of the organization’s merger with the WEC at the beginning of the year. It’s something Faber has dreamed about possessing since starting in mixed martial arts eight years ago and the final accolade left for him to conquer.
Faber wakes up every morning in his home outside of Sacramento, Calif., to a list of goals posted on his bedroom wall. Becoming a UFC champion by the end of the year highlights the list.
“It means a lot to me,” Faber said. “I’ve been saying for a long time, I’ve been a fan of the UFC ever since it came out.”
Cruz wants Faber’s notoriety and respect. Faber is known as the most famous small weight class fighter in the world from his days as the WEC’s top draw and the promotion’s longtime featherweight champion.
Faber has his own shoe deal, with K-Swiss, and appears in commercials alongside actors like Danny McBride from HBO show “Eastbound & Down”. In other words, he’s proven to have crossover appeal because of his MMA accomplishments.
Cruz can’t help but think he deserves the same. Cruz is as articulate, confident and talented as Faber. But to be held in regard as high as Faber, Cruz will have to start by getting a win over his nemesis.
“I’ve been willing to give up everything in my life to be here and have this title and be able to fight on this platform,” Cruz said.
Cruz has done everything from deface photos of Faber to constantly replay in his head a post-fight exchange they shared four years ago to draw motivation for UFC 132.
“I didn’t think about him at all, but he was thinking about me a lot,” Faber said. “It’s kind of weird. If anyone ever had an issue with me growing up, my mom would just be like, ‘oh, he’s jealous.’ I think that’s what’s going on here.”
Cruz scoffed at that idea. Although he called the fight “the most defining of his career” and a way to prove he belongs, Cruz said Faber’s assumptions were wrong.
“Jealousy? That’s his big head talking again,” Cruz said. “It’s far from that. It’s more along the lines of I’ve been the champion for a while now and right after I win, questions about losing to Urijah Faber will stop.”
If the bout goes the way Cruz anticipates, it might also usher in the next superstar of the small weight classes. Faber has shown its possible. Cruz believes he has what it takes.
“It will be a load off of my shoulders when I win,” Cruz said. “It’s going to be an awesome feeling.”