Urijah “The California Kid” Faber is already a legend in MMA, and he’s still very much in the peak of his career. He’s found success both as a fighter (he’s held championships in two different organizations and is currently the fourth-ranked bantamweight in the UFC) and as the founder and leader of Team Alpha Male (his gym is home to current UFC bantamweight champ TJ Dillishaw as well as high-ranked fighters like Chad Mendes, Joseph Benavidez, and Paige VanZant). His latest challenge is as one of the coaches on The Ultimate Fighter: Team McGregor vs. Team Faber, which premieres tonight at 10 PM on Fox Sports 1.
There won’t be a physical confrontation at the end of the season, but there will be a pretty healthy clash of personalities. During his speedy ascent, McGregor has made a name of himself as a guy who talks as hard as he fights, which is pretty much the opposite of the easy-going Faber. Unlike the last time Faber coached on the show (he was opposite longtime rival and then-champion Dominick Cruz), there’s not necessarily a readymade rivalry between he and McGregor, but Faber says there’s still a healthy amount of back-and-forth. “We’ve gotten into a couple of little confrontations,” Faber says of McGregor. “We’ve been cordial for the most part, and then we got into a little verbal battle backstage at a Rousey fight, and then we had a little physical confrontation at the weigh-ins before he fought Chad Mendes. It always seemed like he was having fun with a little edge to it. I didn’t know what to expect. He’s an emotional guy and really unpredictable. There’s definitely some great banter back and forth.”
If there’s one thing Faber learned about the coach on the other side of the cage, it’s that he’s not putting on a show. “That guy is like that all the time,” Faber says of McGregor. “That’s one of the reasons I can appreciate the guy and enjoy it being what it is. The guy is being real. The first time we met, I was thinking, ‘This guy has a good sense of humor. He’s always cracking jokes.’ But then I find out that he just has a bad temper. He’s being real, man.”
Of course, in addition to the rivalry between the coaches, there’s also the competition between the two teams and the quest for the prize, which includes a six-figure contract with the UFC. “There are some real talented guys on the show. The biggest thing, the most important thing, is that they have a great fighting spirit and they work really hard,” Faber says of his team. “My focus ended up being helping these individuals, trying to get to know the guys and giving them every advantage to win.”
He’s providing the same support for the members of Team Alpha Male, including ascendant strawweight superstar Paige VanZant, who just dispatched Alex Chambers last weekend in a dominant performance. Will she be tasting gold soon? “I think Paige is already a contender. She already has the champion mentality—that part is taken care of,” Faber says. “It’s just getting the skill set to a point where she can take the mentality and the conditioning and the athleticism she has and turn it into a world championship. I think she’s fairly close, but she has some strides to make. Joanna [Jedrzejczyk], the current champion, is a dangerous striker. Getting Paige to a point where she can take the fight wherever she wants when she wants it will be the key to that fight.”
Meanwhile, Faber has a fight of his own to worry about. He’ll be squaring off against Frankie Saenz in December. In the meantime, check out the preview of the new season of The Ultimate Fighter below, and tune in tonight at 10 PM on Fox Sports 1.