From the very beginning of his career, Urijah Faber understood that he could be so much more than just a guy throwing punches in a cage. The California Kid bought his own gym in 2006, and went on to build one of the most successful fight teams in the sport. He’s partnered up with apparel brands ranging from K-Swiss to Torque. He’s written a book. And he’s been the entrepreneurial driving force behind a number of forward-thinking enterprises, including MMADraft.com — a site he launched with Phil Davis that seeks to find better opportunities and wider attention for amateur fighters — and Optical Panacea, a new company that elevates MMA fighter posters into fine art.
With Faber awaiting his next fight-assignement from the UFC, we spent some time on the phone with him yesterday to discuss all of the projects that will keep him hustling this summer, from the first-ever MMA Combine that will take place at the next UFC Fan Expo on July 6th, to the public launch party for Optical Panacea that will be going down next Friday in Las Vegas. (Be there!) Enjoy, and be sure to follow Urijah on Twitter @UrijahFaber.
CAGEPOTATO.COM: It’s been a month since your submission win over Scott Jorgensen at the TUF 17 Finale. Has the UFC given you any word on when they want you to return, or offered you your next opponent?
URIJAH FABER: I haven’t heard anything. I’ve kind of been on vacation, but I’m looking forward to continuing training and doing big things.
CAGEPOTATO.COM: Duane Ludwig has been getting a lot of attention lately for his work as the head coach at Team Alpha Male. Is there one thing he’s specifically told you or taught you that’s helped to improve your game?
URIJAH FABER: I think one thing in particular is that we’ve been doing a lot of drilling. As wrestlers, we’ve all drilled a lot with our wrestling techniques, and now we’re bringing that into the other avenues as well. Duane’s got some awesome drills, and he has a great system down — the Duane Bang Muay Thai system — that we’re all learning. I was definitely able to incorporate a little bit of that into my standup [in my last fight], and it’s only going to get better.
CAGEPOTATO.COM: Tell me a little about the MMA Combine for amateur fighters that you and Phil Davis are hosting at the next UFC Fan Expo in July. How close will this be to something like the NFL Scouting Combine, and what are some of the testing criteria that will be specific to MMA?
URIJAH FABER: We have our standardized testing, which covers the athleticism, and then we do interviews with the guys as well with a sports psychologist. There’s body-fat testing and all that kind of stuff, but the MMA testing is unique. We’ll be releasing information on how to train for it on our website MMADraft.com, but basically there’s a wrestling assessment — and there will be criteria there that we’ll specify — and there will be jiu-jitsu or submission grappling, and then a striking segment as well, so we’ll be able to measure those things in addition to the athleticism.
CAGEPOTATO.COM: Are you hoping that the UFC will take notice of some of these guys at the Combine? It seems like this could be a way of showcasing new talent other than putting new prospects on The Ultimate Fighter.
URIJAH FABER: Well, the difference with us and The Ultimate Fighter is that The Ultimate Fighter takes professional fighters who have been climbing their way through the ranks, and gives them an opportunity. The MMA Combine will create awareness for the younger, new generation of amateurs that are out there. And we have all sorts of cool things on the site that are aiding these kids and young adults already, and helping them find their own path towards making their name in the sport. This is another way for them to network, to be seen, and to generate some excitement about these amateur events that they’re doing, whether it be jiu-jitsu, or kickboxing, or wrestling, or whatever it may be. So that’s what we’re doing — creating awareness for these guys that haven’t even stepped in the pro avenue yet.
CAGEPOTATO.COM: And why do you think something like that needs to exist, both the MMA Combine and MMADraft.com in general?
URIJAH FABER: This needs to exist because there needs to be opportunity. In the MMA world, you could be a national champion in wrestling or a jiu-jitsu world champion, or 20-0 in amateur fighting with all knockouts, and there’s still no monetary opportunities, or any awareness about who you are in the sport, and that needs to change for us. As a athlete who was a high-level college athlete — and my partner Phil Davis who was also a high-level college athlete — we would have liked to see some more opportunity, and this is what MMADraft.com is going to create.
CAGEPOTATO.COM: How long have you know Phil Davis, and why did you decide to partner up with him specifically?
URIJAH FABER: I’ve only known Phil for a couple years. The first time we sat down and actually talked, he was telling me how he liked what I had done in terms of creating my own opportunities and doing my own business things. We started talking about our wrestling background, and how eventually there’s going to be a draft [in MMA], and how prevalent the wrestlers would be in that, and I said, you know, we should start our own draft. So I looked up the domain name “MMADraft” on GoDaddy, and I said, “Dude, it’s available.” So he said “50/50,” and we shook hands right there and we went upstairs and bought the domain name. That was two years ago. So we’ve been working on this for two years now, and we’ve been putting in a lot of thought and hiring the right people and doing the right things to make it happen.
CAGEPOTATO.COM: One of the features that I noticed on MMADraft.com was the option to request a scout. Who are these scouts and how exactly does that process work?
URIJAH FABER: We’ve been building a strong network of scouts across the globe, and basically they’re insiders into some of the top gyms, the top teams, the top tournaments, and things like that in the sport, as well as some older, retired, and more accomplished MMA fighters themselves. They’re guys who have a passion and an eye for the sport, and want to see the future generation of talent get their opportunities.
CAGEPOTATO.COM: Let’s talk about Optical Panacea. I’ve heard about these posters for a while, and we even gave one away on CagePotato once. I think the next batch looks awesome, especially the Chael Sonnen one. Who came up with the idea of fighters battling themselves in the posters?
URIJAH FABER: The idea came about from my partner Sam Hon, who’s a really talented artist and photographer, and he had an idea that he wanted to do with me, so he was bugging me for a long time, just friend-to-friend. It took about three months for us to meet up, because I was always busy like, “Yeah, photoshoot, whatever, blah blah.” But once I saw the finished product and I started showing some of the other fighters, everyone was like “Oh man, I want to do one of those!” And I told Sam, hey man, I think this would be cool to start a business where we do some fine art, and do different things with different fighters. Like, mine is myself on the beach, fighting myself in kind of a night-time setting, and I’m in jeans, and it’s really cool visually; it’s a cool concept.
We’ve done pictures with BJ Penn, Anderson Silva, Wanderlei Silva, Randy Couture, Chael Sonnen, Mark Munoz, Phil Davis — all these guys that I know and have access to, I showed them the picture and they’re all on board for doing it. There will be some limited edition prints, and we’re gonna have all sorts of cool things that will come off of this as well.
CAGEPOTATO.COM: You’ll be unveiling some of the new posters at a public release party next Friday. Where is it and what’s going to be happening there?
URIJAH FABER: The release party is at Heraea, which is probably the coolest sports bar I’ve ever been in. It’s in the Palms, it’s brand new, and it’s like a man’s paradise — they have amazing food in there, they have big-screen TVs, and the UFC fights are shown there quite a bit. We have all of our art up there displayed; we’re kind of in charge of decorating that place, so it’ll be like a gallery there for us. So that’s May 24th, right before UFC 160 the next day. You guys should come in if you’re in Las Vegas, eat some good food and check out the art and photography. Make sure you get there early and get a seat, but it’s open to the public and it’s a really, really cool spot.
CAGEPOTATO.COM: Last question before I let you go. Dominick Cruz is still in the midst of recovery from his knee issues. First of all, How badly do you still want your long-delayed rubber match against Cruz?
URIJAH FABER: I definitely want that fight. That’s a fight that’s important to my career. I want to get the win over him, I want to get the belt, I want to do all those things. So, people want to see that fight, I want to see it, let’s do it.
CAGEPOTATO.COM: If Cruz comes back this year, he’ll probably have to fight Renan Barao first. Since you have first-hand knowledge of both fighters, who do you think would win that match?
URIJAH FABER: I think it’s just going to come down to that day and who’s able to execute. Dominick is very elusive, and he throws a lot of punches and is really active. Barao actually doesn’t move that much, but he’s extremely hard to hit as well. It’s funny: One moves a ton and is hard to hit, and the other one doesn’t move that much and is hard to hit. Dominick’s known for scoring points with his takedowns, and things like that, but I think he’s going to have trouble doing that with Barao. But Barao may have trouble actually connecting with Cruz as well. So it’s really going to come down to the day; I don’t know who’s gonna win.