NEW YORK — Sacramento's Urijah Faber walked out on a Madison Square Garden stage in a Wes Welker jersey, the UFC's fun nod to that other “super” show this weekend.
Peyton Manning would have been more appropriate choice.
Like Manning, Faber is a former world champion and about as good as it gets in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Walking out of the cage on top? That's where it gets tricky for the laidback Californian.
Faber has a knack for losing MMA title fights, yet he's back in the octagon Saturday night with another shot at the belt. Faber fights 135-pound champ Renan Barao at UFC 169 at the Prudential Center, just a few miles away from MetLife Stadium, the site of Sunday's Super Bowl.
He's 0 for 5 as the challenger in title bouts since 2008 — a measure of both his inability to rise to the occasion, yet proof of his tenacity to fight back toward the top.
“Look at any other sport in the world. Who just quits if they didn't get No. 1?” Faber asked. “The reason I keep getting into these title fights is because no one else can beat me. I've had fights to get into these positions and I win. And I win decisively.”
He sure does, including a stout 4-0 record in 2013. He choked out Michael McDonald just six weeks ago on a UFC on Fox card, and was pressed into service for Saturday night when injury-prone Dominick Cruz pulled out with a torn groin.
“I'm kind of used to Cruz not fighting these days,” Faber said.
Another UFC card going off without Cruz seems almost as automatic as one with Faber chasing another championship.
Faber lost decisions to Cruz (2011) and the first Barao bout (2012) to extend his title-fight losing streak.
“I figured I'd fight him again,” Faber said. “You start thinking about things right after the fight, the things that were difficult, the things you had success with. But I haven't been dwelling on it, that's for sure. But looking again and recapping his fighting style is something I've had to do.”
Faber's most notable championship reigns came with World Extreme Cagefighting. But “The California Kid” knows he needs a UFC championship to cement his status as one of the best in the world.
“Saturday's a defining moment in his career,” UFC President Dana White said.
Jose Aldo defends his 145-pound championship against Ricardo Lamas and Alistair Overeem fights Frank Mir in a heavyweight bout to headline the fifth major UFC card at the Prudential Center since it opened in 2007.
The UFC carved out a big slice of mainstream success in the New York area this week, with billboards and buses in Times Square promoting the show, and main event fighters were welcomed at the NFL's media day.
“Anybody who knows the sport knows what great fights these are,” White said. “Do I think we're going to do 1 million buys this weekend? No, but I think we're going to do well.”
Overeem and Mir could have main evented a PPV a few years back, but both heavyweights are fighting just to stay in UFC.
Mir, a former heavyweight champion, hasn't won a bout in more than two years and has talked openly about moving into a broadcasting career. Overeem is riding a two-fight losing streak and is far removed from his prime and his last big win over Brock Lesnar at UFC 141 in 2011. He's not not ready to quit.
“Fighting in the UFC is the biggest stage, so there's always pressure to perform,” Overeem said. “I'll keep fighting. What else can I do?”
Only 34, Mir points to aging fighters like Dan Henderson as a reason to keep going in the cage for a few more years.
“If I was losing to the No. 20 guy who just got to UFC, then after he beats me he can't win another fight,” Mir said, “that would weigh on me.”
Mir said there was no shame in losing to Junior dos Santos, Daniel Cormier, and Josh Barnett. And if Mir has to fight elsewhere, even the self-proclaimed UFC lifer would consider his options.
White isn't quite ready to proclaim Mir-Overeem a good ol' fashioned “loser leaves town” bout.
“Everybody keeps asking me if those guys are done, if one of them are getting cut,” he said. “What if the fight is a (great) fight? I'll keep them both. But they need to perform on Saturday night.”