You could be excused if your reaction to the May announcement that Urijah Faber would return to mixed martial arts after a three-year hiatus was to hit his head against the closest solid object available.
What was there to prove? What was there to win? After all, Faber had come up with such a high note, perhaps the highest for a combat sports athlete. Fighting in front of his hometown, Sacramento's favorite son had run Brad Pickett for 15 minutes in a row, enjoying the glory of the spotlights one last time. From the start to the start, the local crowd had filled him with praise and excitement, and Faber had responded kindly. As so many great ones do, he had that last explosion in him, a last moment to say goodbye. It was a perfect storybook.
While many of the fighter retreats fall apart, this seems to have a solid foundation. Even when he was an active and successful fighter, he had had the vision to create and expand his own flourishing fighting team and to build several businesses in and out of his sport. He had a plan, one that would allow him to get away, to vanish in the background.
Yes, we think he did it. He left at the right time! This was something to celebrate, if only because happy endings in high-level MMA are as rare as the choke of the pillory. They are so unexpected that sometimes they defy belief, but Faber had created his magical farewell.
When he decided to return to the UFC, it was a surprise because of how long he had managed to stay away. Many fighters return to the cage after a few months of being on the sidelines, unable to feed or ignore the addiction to competition. But Faber had been away for an eternity, so long that only one of the 12 fighters who currently have a part of a UFC belt had begun his reign at that time. It was almost another era.
The UFC seemed to see it in a similar way. While the promotion gave him an equitable showdown with a fellow veteran at Pickett for his farewell fight in 2016, this time there were no favors. Ricky Simon was 26 years old and was on the rise, the winner of eight consecutive fights. Bet makers and bettors also saw it in the same way. Faber opened up like a small loser and the odds quickly moved away from him. When the door of the cage closed, Simon was the second betting favorite on the card.
We should have known that California Kid would not be the warning story. It is not as if he had left after being crushed with the usual. For the most part, I was losing to asparagus, from Frankie Edgar and Dominick Cruz to Renan Barao during Barao's high season. The criticism against him was not that his chin was gone or that he had been slow on the trigger, but that his game had stalled. His success had been mainly the result of a powerful right over the hand and a timely skill submission game. If I could survive those two things, I would have the opportunity to use a broader offensive approach to success.
When defeating Simon, Faber did not show us anything new, although to be fair, it is difficult to show refinements in 46 seconds. It was, once again, a tracker just when Simon entered no man's land what closed the show. It was vintage, punctual and perfect.
Even at 40, Faber can still do the job if you leave that kind of openings, and that should not come as a surprise. During the course of his career, he earned a reputation for his dedication to health and fitness, staying fit throughout the year. He has stated that you should never take a full soda, avoid fast food and rarely have sweets. I was never going to be the kind of person who became slow and round during the night.
After beating a classified opponent, Faber has an open road ahead. Henry Cejudo, double champion, has called to fight with him, and you wonder if Faber, who is already a member of the UFC Hall of Fame, can create another magical moment. While it's crazy to think that you can move from retirement to the title race in little more than a blink of an eye, while other contenders in two divisions have been working hard for that opportunity, it's almost impossible. Faber is the biggest name the UFC can match with Cejudo, so if the UFC is ever going to take advantage of his comeback, this is the moment.
Against Cejudo, Faber would face long odds again. He struck out four times in the UFC belts during his heyday, and Cejudo is at the top. The flyweight and bantamweight champion has power and speed and an unwavering will to win. Faber's victory at that seems incomprehensible. Before yesterday, he also did a 46-second victory, the fastest of his long career. The same thing made a knockout, the first in more than a decade. The same made a second curtain call from Sactown. However, now we are here, thinking that maybe we reacted in an exaggerated way, that perhaps this return was not the worst idea we have heard, that maybe we should have known that even at 40, the Californian can still get some children.