I have to say that I am looking forward to tonight’s WEC 36 (8 p.m. ET on VERSUS) card with more anticipation of any card since UFC 87 in August. To the typical casual fan, UFC 90′s main event between Anderson Silva vs. Patrick Cote was probably a much bigger deal but I think if you ask any hardcore fan, chances are they’re probably more excited about tonight’s main event between WEC featherweight champion Urijah Faber and number one contender Mike Thomas Brown.
It’s not only a great matchup stylistically, but Brown is a far greater threat to Faber than Cote was to Silva. Faber, like Silva, is one of the world’s top pound-for-pound fighters but unlike Cote, Brown is actually considered a dangerous opponent.
Brown trains out of American Top Team and is a seven year veteran of the sport. After entering MMA with a great ground game, he has evolved over the years into a tremendous all-around fighter with no glaring weak areas. To describe his fighting style as anything other than a mixed martial artist at this stage of his career is a difficult task.
He’s fought all over the world against top lighter weight fighters such as Masakazu Imanari, Renato Tavares, Joe Lauzon, Genki Sudo, Hermes Franca, and Mark Hominick. Despite being heavily tested throughout his career, it was Brown’s unanimous decision victory over Yves Edwards — considered an upset at the time — during BodogFIGHT’s “Clash of the Nations” event in December of 2006 that really allowed him to increase his profile.
While the win over Edwards helped his cause, Brown has flown primarily under the radar despite being awarded a shot against Faber thanks in large part to a seven fight win streak. Even the WEC, which has done a great job marketing most of its talent, has dropped the ball with Brown. Debuting for the promotion at WEC 34 in Sacramento this past June, Brown recorded a unanimous decision victory over Jeff Curran.
The victory prompted many pundits to move Brown into their top ten at featherweight, yet it was still not shown on live television. The night’s main event of Faber vs. Jens Pulver recorded one of the largest ratings in the history of VERSUS yet the promotion failed to capitalize on the tremendous viewership by giving everyone a close look at Faber’s next foil.
While Faber vs. Pulver was promoted as the “biggest fight in WEC history,” Faber vs. Brown has the potential to be even more competitive. So much so that a few people in the industry whose opinion I respect have even gone so far as to predict that Brown will be the man to hand Faber just his second career loss and bring his four-fight reign as the promotion’s featherweight champ to an end.
As great as Brown is and as much as I am looking forward to tonight’s main event, I just don’t see Brown being able to join Tyson Griffin in the exclusive club of fighters that can claim a victory over Faber.
Sure, Brown has gotten a lot better working out of possibly the premier fight camp in the world right now in ATT but Faber is light years better than the guy who was TKO’d by a much larger Griffin at Gladiator Challenge 42 in September of 2005.
Brown poses a threat because like Griffin, he will most likely have a size advantage as well. While Faber could easily make the bantamweight limit of 135, Brown has competed at lightweight in the past and even had trouble making weight for tonight’s fight by coming in a half a pound over during his initial weigh-in attempt on Tuesday.
But outside of a size advantage, I don’t see what else Brown has going for him? Brown might have a higher belt rank and know a few more submissions than Faber but Faber’s jiu-jitsu is world class. His repertoire of submissions is limited in comparison to Brown’s, but in MMA, it’s often better to be great at 2-3 submissions as opposed to just being good at 8-10. And when it comes to wrestling, few are better in the lighter weight classes than Faber when it comes to takedowns, takedown defense, scrambling, and controlling position.
When you look at the standup, I see everything it as even. Faber has worked hard to improve on his feet and is no longer a ground guy with decent standup. He is truly a dual-threat after going toe-to-toe and outpointing Pulver for five rounds during their June encounter. If Faber was able to handle Pulver’s standup, I don’t see Brown being an issue because when it comes to featherweight strikers, it doesn’t get much more dangerous than Pulver. The former UFC lightweight champion is one of the few fighters competing below 145 pounds that can legitimately claim they have knockout power in their hands.
Brown could always try to take Faber out of his gameplan and apply constant pressure for five rounds, but the odds of out-working Faber aren’t very strong. Faber’s cardio is always excellent and he’s probably one of the few fighters in the world capable of fighting 7-8 rounds. If Brown tries to push him, Faber has more than enough gas in the tank to push right back.
The only way Faber loses if he took Brown lightly in preparing for him but I consider that to be a scenario even less likely than Brown being able to out-work Faber. Don’t let his youthful good looks fool you, Faber might be all California outside of the cage but inside of it he becomes a completely different person. If you want to talk “gameness,” look no further than Faber. I saw this first hand several years back when I was able to shadow him during a press stop he made in Philadelphia.
Faber was all jokes and smiles for much of the day with the lone exception of a 25-minute work out at Daddis Fight Camps’ South Philadelphia location. Once he took the mat, Faber became a man possessed and began to shadow box at a furious pace. From there, he hit the pads and worked the bag just to build up a sweat. Prior to working out, Faber categorized it as “light” but it became apparent after only a few minutes that his standard of “light” was much different than that of a typical fighter.
Perhaps I am reaching by referencing Faber’s intensity during a workout conducted on a press tour from a couple of years back, but when has Faber ever shown to anything but an intense competitor in his fights? Mike Thomas Brown poses a tremendous challenge but it’s one that Faber will certainly raise his game for. Tonight, Brown will become just another name on Faber’s growing list of victims.