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Urijah Faber preparing for summer of opportunities with UFC

Faber details feud with Dominick Cruz, his opponent in the UFC 132 main event

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Sam Morris

Urijah Faber flexes on the scale during the weigh in for WEC 52 Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at the Palms.

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Chad Mendes celebrates after the final bell of a featherweight fight against Cub Swanson at WEC 50 inside The Pearl at The Palms Wednesday, August 18, 2010. Mendes won by unanimous decision.

Urijah Faber considers himself a man of his word.

If anyone can attest to that, it’s probably teammate Chad Mendes. Faber, the top contender for the UFC bantamweight belt, recently recalled a conversation he had with Mendes, the No. 1 contender for the UFC featherweight crown, in 2008.

Faber made Mendes a promise while trying to convince him to join his training squad, Team Alpha Male, in Sacramento, Calif.

“I told him, ‘Hey dude, in a couple years when you’re ready to take the belt at 145, I’ll be down at 135 and we’ll get them together,’” Faber said, “It’s happened like that. I talked about it and game-planned for it, so it’s pretty cool to see it come together.”

The UFC is about to embark on the busiest stretch of events in its 18-year history this summer. Including two cards with Strikeforce, which is now owned by UFC, there will be 10 major mixed martial arts events in 14 weeks from the last weekend of May to the last weekend of August. Out of everyone involved, the 31-year-old Faber could emerge as the biggest winner.

Faber (25-4) will challenge bitter rival Dominick Cruz (17-1) for the bantamweight title in the headlining bout of UFC 132 on July 2 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Then, he’ll turn around and be in the corner of Mendes, his protégé, as the 26-year-old tries to pry the featherweight belt from Jose Aldo.

UFC President Dana White has announced Mendes (10-0) will be the next fighter to face Aldo (19-1) with the matchup possibly headlining UFC 133 on Aug. 6 in Philadelphia.

“I think Chad’s a great matchup for Aldo,” Faber said. “He is super durable. He’s never been put in any type of trouble. He’s never been close to being submitted. He’s never been closed to getting knocked out. I feel like Aldo is in the same boat up until recently. These are two guys who are definitely at the top.”

Before Faber can worry about Mendes’ title shot, however, he’ll have to go through what forecasts to be an exhausting build-up to his fight with Cruz. The two bantamweights share a strong dislike for each other and have shown no hesitance to exchange barbs through the media.

According to Cruz, their rivalry began in 2007 before they faced off for the featherweight championship at WEC 26 in Las Vegas — a bout Faber won via submission less than two minutes into the first round. Cruz was upset that only Faber’s picture was on the poster promoting the event, so he began signing over it at an autograph session.

Faber saw it as a sign of disrespect and let Cruz know it. Though that situation may sound fussy, it was only the starting point of a feud that continued to escalate.

“He’s an immature dude with a chip on his shoulder,” Faber said. “The few interactions I’ve had with him are a couple times of him being disrespectful and the other one was me beating him up.”

The loss remains the only a blip on Cruz’s record. He dropped to 135 pounds shortly after the first Faber fight and has won eight straight.

Cruz has his own vitriol to spit about Faber.

“He’s done a lot of videos on YouTube that kind of made me a little angry,” Cruz said. “I’ve said stuff about him that’s made him a little angry. We pretty much can’t wait to punch each other in the face is what it comes down to.”

The UFC appears poised to test their patience in that regard. Less than a month ago, the promotion sent Faber on a public relations trip to Camp Pendleton in San Diego to interact with Marines.

Among the other fighters involved in the event? Cruz. Faber said UFC officials warned him Cruz would be around before the trip, but not fully.

“I didn’t realize the extent we’d have to put up with each other for two days straight,” Faber said. “It was a big surprise.”

“I don’t know what the UFC was exactly doing with that, but it was kind of awkward. The bottom line is we got in some good words and gave each other some crap.”

Faber found out he was getting the next shot at Cruz right after he defeated Eddie Wineland in his octagon debut at UFC 128 in March. Motivated by the opportunity, Faber took no time off and immediately returned to training the Monday after the Wineland fight.

Mendes took a similar approach after his first UFC win, a unanimous decision victory over Michihiro Omigawa at UFC 126. Faber said Mendes realized how much work it would take to beat Aldo, who is considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.

That being said, Faber thought Aldo showed a weakness in his UFC 129 win over Mark Hominick two weeks ago — one that Mendes, a former top-ranked collegiate wrestler at Cal Poly, can take advantage of.

“It was good to see Aldo’s wrestling conditioning,” Faber said. “I don’t think his body is accustomed for high-intensity grappling, especially at a wrestling pace. It’s interesting to look at when you think about Chad.”

Faber said he thought Mendes was the man to get past Aldo. His vision of two championship belts under one training roof could come true this summer.

“It would be incredible,” Faber said. “It’s a testament to the strong team we’ve built.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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