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One of MMA's longest and most bitter rivalries will finally be settled at UFC 199 this weekend

Cruz and Faber will complete their trilogy.

UFC 132 MMA Source: Eric Jamison

THE WINDOW TO make one last attempt to become the UFC’s bantamweight champion appeared to have closed for Urijah Faber as far back as February 2014.

After suffering a first-round TKO loss to Renan Barao at UFC 169 — the second occasion Faber fell short in a UFC title bout — it was time for the ‘The California Kid’, with his 35th birthday on the horizon, to make way for younger challengers in the 135lbs division.

One of them — TJ Dillashaw, Faber’s understudy at Team Alpha in Sacramento — capitalised, defeating Barao to begin a 20-month reign as UFC bantamweight champion. His team-mate’s ascent to the summit of the division convinced Faber to move back up to 145lbs and try his luck at featherweight, but it proved to be a one-night-only return.

After he was comfortably defeated by Frankie Edgar over five rounds in May 2015, the future looked uncertain for Faber as his relevance in two different divisions dwindled. However, three factors combined to engineer a significant change in fortunes.

Faber has always been a popular fighter, but just as he threatened to drop off the radar, a coaching gig opposite Conor McGregor on The Ultimate Fighter last autumn catapulted him right back into the MMA spotlight.

An acrimonious fall-out with Dillashaw, which resulted in the then-champion departing Team Alpha Male, created a viable storyline to work Faber back into the title picture in pursuit of a shot at his former protégé, but it was the reemergence of Faber’s most bitter rival which ultimately paved the way for a third-time-lucky opportunity this Saturday night at UFC 199 in Los Angeles.

Having competed just once in 50 months due to a series of injury troubles, Dominick Cruz returned in January to dethrone Dillashaw and reclaim the title. Dillashaw probably deserved a shot at redemption after the split-decision loss, but the UFC were unable to resist the temptation to make a rubber match between Faber and Cruz while they still can.

UFC 132 MMA Source: Eric Jamison

The rivalry between the pair can be traced back to their WEC featherweight title bout in March 2007, when a 27-year-old Faber with a record of 18-1 submitted his far less experienced opponent, who had just turned 22 and suffered the first blemish on his 9-0 ledger. But nine years and 12 fights later, Cruz still hasn’t had another taste of defeat.

En route to his successful title defence, Faber appeared to be in no hurry to release the guillotine choke. That was a reflection of the animosity that had already built up between the pair and which has only increased over the course of their concurrent careers. To put it mildly, there’s no love lost between them.

“He’s alive right now because there’s rules in MMA so I had to release his neck to let him breathe,” Faber would later remark. A rematch was inevitable but it took four years to happen. And this time the ball was in Cruz’s court after he had migrated from the WEC to the UFC as the best bantamweight in the world.

At UFC 132 in July 2011, Cruz gained revenge by successfully defending his title with a unanimous-decision victory over Faber, who was convinced that the judges were off the mark: “Dominick did not win the second fight. It was a very close fight but I thought I won.”

A trilogy bout was booked to take place 12 months later, but — almost four years on — we’re still waiting to see it. Prior to their scheduled meeting at UFC 148, Cruz was forced to withdraw due to a torn ACL. It marked the beginning of a three-year injury nightmare that only definitively came to an end when he regained the belt he was forced to relinquish during his absence at the expense of Dillashaw back in January.

Cruz is confident of holding on to his title this Saturday night, and with the reigning champion available at 1/6 against 4/1 Faber, so are the bookmakers. Cruz said: “What makes fights is not liking someone, and I don’t like him.”

Can Urijah Faber prise open the window of opportunity once more on Saturday night, or will it be another chance for Cruz to back up the widely-held belief that — at full fitness — he’s untouchable at 135lbs?

The UFC have done an excellent job of hyping this one up and the extended promo below is well worth 22 minutes of your time.

Source: UFC - Ultimate Fighting Championship/YouTube

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Paul Dollery

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