SACRAMENTO, Calif.—Ultimate Fitness, the downtown mixed martial arts destination in the Golden State’s capital, shares its initials with founder, Urijah Faber. “The California Kid” simultaneously built his Team Alpha Male empire from inside the gym as a world-renowned destination for the lighter weight classes, while breaking ground in the mainstream for those lighter divisions.
Zuffa, parent company to the UFC, acquired Faber’s contractual rights from the short-lived WFA organization in late 2006. One of the sport’s most touted prospects, he was to be the face of the Zuffa-owned WEC, a cable TV showcase for the lower classes and future stars.
Faber was the first sub-155-pound fighter to headline WEC events. He ruled the featherweight division for five title defenses, placing him in the rare five-title defense club alongside the likes of Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva and Jon Jones. He did it with half the fanfare because it occurred outside the UFC’s Octagon.
Faber lost his WEC title to Mike Thomas Brown in summer 2008, but remained a star chasing gold since. He sold out events in Sacramento, eventually launching the WEC onto pay-per-view in an April 2010 losing effort versus Jose Aldo to reclaim the featherweight crown.
Just over a year later, Faber moved down to bantamweight. In his first UFC headlining duties, he suffered a unanimous decision loss to an adversary he foiled in the WEC, Dominick Cruz, in their historic 135-pound main event – the first of its kind in the Octagon.
It’s been 10 years since Faber was a sought-after regional star and nine years since he first helped put the WEC on the map. In the five years since ending up on the wrong side of the decision against Cruz, he came up short in two other title tries against Renan Barao, comprising five title-fight defeats since he last was champion. Despite the lack of gold since 2008, Faber’s championship status has been carried on by the fact he has the most submissions of anyone to compete in major organizations in history.
Faber remains a mixed martial arts star, world-ranked and tenured, still vying for a championship eight years after dropping his belt. He just turned 37 years old.
Completing a light sparring session opposite featherweight hitter Chad Mendes, technique drills with Muay Thai instructor Master Thong, and a cool-down stretching session, Faber stepped outside characteristically shirtless, sporting his own brand, Torque, with a red hat and shared the culture he’s built in his hometown.
Here feels like the fountain of youth.
“I don’t speak in the third person very often, but I’ll still wear ‘The California Kid,’” Faber told Champions.co on aging in this sport. “It’s a mental state, a mental place.”
There is a plain black and white sign that touts Team Alpha Male inside. The unattributed quote sounds like Faber: “Dream big. Stay positive. Work hard & enjoy the journey.” Faber has undoubtedly lived by it. However, an ugly public defection by the former UFC Bantamweight Champion T.J. Dillashaw – the first to bring UFC gold to Team Alpha Male – created an imbalance in the team’s notable chemistry.
With West Coast rap favorites such as the Luniz “I Got 5 on It” and Eazy E’s “Boyz-n-the-Hood” blaring inside the gym to outside, Faber commented everything is back where it needs to be for Team Alpha Male and his own career. It will be on display for fellow Californians to witness themselves once Faber returns to the Octagon in his home state for the first time in two-plus years at UFC 199 this Saturday.
“I love fighting in California,” Faber said before listing places like radio shout outs. “Sacramento, L.A., San Diego, then I’d say Vegas after that. California is my state, no matter where I’m at. Born in Santa Barbara, raised in Sacramento, and I love every inch of Cali.”