Saturday, January 9, 2010

Urijah Faber: Should "The California Kid" Still Be the WEC Poster Boy?

In a recent interview with Bleacher Report’s Bryan Levick, Lightweight champion Jamie Varner had some choice words for his employers, questioning the seemingly constant push received by Urijah Faber:

It should be called The Urijah Faber show instead of World Extreme Cagefighting. They keep giving Faber all of the big promotional deals, in fact they just hooked him up with Amp Energy Drink. Amp just became the official energy drink of the WEC. I called the WEC regarding Amp about two months ago because a buddy of mine who works with Pepsi told me about it. I asked the WEC to get me on board with them and they said they would see what they could do. Lo and behold Faber got the deal.

Regardless of your personal opinions of Jamie Varner, his comments have merit, though they only present one side of the story.

Yes, as a champion in the WEC and one of a number of talented, recognition-worthy competitors under their banner, it certainly has to be hard to constantly see Faber as the poster boy for the company, including as the star of the trailer for this upcoming event.

In a very liberal sense, it is similar to the Kimbo Slice dichotomy.

Kimbo, like Faber, is a massive draw and highly-marketable fighter. “The California Kid” has regularly pulled over a million viewers to Versus, while no one else has eclipsed the 700,000 mark.

But in terms of performance and abilities, Kimbo is nowhere near as skilled or accomplished as countless fighters earning far less and achieving far more.

While Faber is a former champ and a much-higher caliber fighter than Kimbo, those who advocate a fighter getting by on their merits more than their marketability could come calling if Faber were to lose on Sunday.

There is no question that the pride of Sacramento is the most well-known fighter on the WEC roster, and as charismatic and marketable a figure as the sport has to offer. But heading into Sunday’s fight with Raphael Assuncao, Faber has fought four times over the last two years, splitting those bouts down the middle.

The losses came to Mike Brown, while the wins came over Jens Pulver.

Yes, both of them.

As much as some Faber fans want to play the “What If Game” with Faber’s two defeats to Brown, the former Featherweight champ twice-removed has yet to get by the once-removed champion, and there are no indications that he ever would.

That brings us to his victories from the last 730 days, give or take.

Fair or not, the general consensus on Jens Pulver at this stage of his career is that he is passed his best before date. Many believe that his first fight with Faber – a fight which Faber won by unanimous decision – was the last great fight of “Little Evil’s” impressive career.

It’s hard to argue the opposite, as that bout was the beginning of the current four-fight losing streak that sent Pulver back to Iowa to re-evaluate his fighting future.

As a fan, I’m glad he’s making a return in March. As an objective journalist, I don’t know how much he’s got left in the tank, though I hope he proves me and everyone else wrong.

Getting back on topic, will pushing Faber as “The Face of the Franchise” continue to make sense should he suffer another defeat on Sunday night?

His two wins would have come over a fighter who is 1-6 in his last seven fights and widely thought of as finished, and he would slip to #3 in the division, at most, behind Assuncao and a guy he hasn’t been able to beat in two attempts.

Though he would still be the most recognizable name in the company, a number of fighters could make the argument that the time to pass the marketing torch has come.

Current featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo is emerging as a bona fide star after collecting four wins and numerous Fighter of the Year awards in 2009.

Former champ Mike Thomas Brown holds a pair of wins over “The California Kid,” yet still spends the occasional weekend answering the phones and working the front desk at American Top Team. Some it comes from enjoyment, but a few extra dollars in the man’s pocket on the marketing side might change things.

Miguel Torres, Brian Bowles, and a trio of lightweights in Varner, Ben Henderson and Donald Cerrone would all rank above Faber in terms of recent performances, yet remain a great distance behind in terms of the push they receive.

Though Faber certainly did a great deal of legwork during the early years of the company and is now reaping the rewards, star power comes and goes based on wins and losses, and a loss Sunday would certainly take some of the shine off of the WEC poster boy.

Backing Faber makes perfect sense from a business standpoint.

But with a growing number of emerging talents with brighter futures and better records in recent months, the WEC could be hitching their wagon to the wrong horse.

Should Faber win – and many believe he will – he still has a couple of difficult draws on the horizon, beginning with Jose Aldo, a fighter who just made quick work of Faber’s arch enemy, Mike Brown.

Only time will tell if the WEC is doing the right thing in putting their promotional dollars behind Faber over guys like Aldo, Brown, Torres and Varner.

Of course, a guy who has been on the shelf for almost a year to the day should probably focus on winning his fight and returning to relevance then wondering why he isn’t getting a bigger marketing push.

Both guys can gain some amount of vindication Sunday night. They could also get caught with a literal and metaphorical punch in the mouth.

Now you’ve got two more reason to tune in.

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