Retired? Urijah Faber is busier than ever — and back to fighting at age 40

8:08 AM ET

Marc RaimondiESPN

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Kyle Carter walked into Ultimate Fitness just before 10 a.m. on a recent Wednesday morning, seemingly out of place. Four days earlier, Carter was at his rental home expecting to be greeted by someone at the property. Urijah Faber, UFC Hall of Famer and former WEC featherweight champion, showed up.

“I’m not at a loss for words a lot of times,” Carter said. “But when you’re expecting to meet your Airbnb host and you open the door and it’s Urijah Faber, that’s a big deal.”

Years ago, Faber and his father, Theo, restored a burned-down 1890s Victorian home. He rents out the bottom floor to one of his Team Alpha Male fighters and the rest to visitors in California’s capital city. When Faber found out Carter was a fan, he invited him and his coworkers and family to the gym for sparring day.

Faber is involved in fitness, real estate, clothing, management, meal delivery, CBD and film production businesses. You name the category and Faber probably has a hand in it. He is about to fully own Ultimate Fitness and potentially the space next door. Soon, he might add fight promotion to the list. Faber said he owns at least a small piece of more than 10 companies.

Saturday’s UFC Fight Night card in Sacramento, California, will feature one of MMA’s top rising stars and a legend making a return. The unbeaten Aspen Ladd will be in her first UFC main event, facing Germaine de Randamie, with bantamweight title implications on the line. Prior to that, hometown hero Urijah Faber will enter the Octagon for the first time in more than two years to face up-and-comer Ricky Simon.

UFC Fight Night: De Randamie vs. Ladd
• Saturday, Sacramento, California
• Prelims: ESPN+ 5 p.m. ET
• Main card: ESPN+ 8 p.m. ET

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Faber’s professional life and personal life continue to grow. Four months ago, Faber and his fiancée, Jaslyn Ome, had their first child, Cali. Shortly after that, Faber announced he would return to fighting at the age of 40 after more than two years of a sabbatical. “The California Kid” faces rising prospect Ricky Simon at UFC Sacramento on Saturday night at Golden 1 Center, about seven miles from Faber’s gym.

Faber, a pioneer of the sport who brought attention to the lighter weight classes in MMA, doesn’t have to get back in the Octagon. His businesses are doing well. But a comeback was always inevitable, even after he announced his “retirement” fight would be against Brad Pickett at UFC on FOX 22 in December 2016. Faber never formally notified the UFC of his retirement and basically always intended on returning after a break.

Faber said he caught the MMA bug again when he was training for high-profile grappling matches earlier this year and sparring with teammates Cody Garbrandt and Chad Mendes during their recent fight preparations.

“I’ve been motivated over the last 2½ years,” Faber said. “I’ve been wanting to fight some people. I had that feeling like, just you want to fight. Irritated by some stuff, motivated by other stuff. Just knowing that it’s coming.”

Having a mind attuned to revenue streams, that aspect of the sport is not lost on Faber. Fighting is an opportunity for competition and a chance to prove himself at age 40, which he calls a “milestone.” But it’s also something that can be monetized.

“There’s a lot of good things happening [in my businesses],” Faber said. “Of course, the [profit] margins in the fight game are awesome. We are prizefighters. Money is part of the motivation. You see guys making more and more money. Like dude, I’m still a game guy. If there’s money on the table, let’s grab some of it.”

How does Faber do it all — training, coaching, being an entrepreneur and now fatherhood? No one around him is totally sure.

“I’ve never seen in my life someone focus like him,” Faber’s longtime coach Fabio Prado said. “He’s the first guy in the gym every day and the last to leave. He cleans the gym. I don’t know how he does everything, but whatever it is, I want that formula.”

Urijah Faber, a UFC Hall of Famer, is coming out of retirement to compete in his hometown of Sacramento, California. Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Sparring is done. It’s 11:52 a.m. Faber, shirtless wearing shorts and flip-flops, jumps into his mother’s beat-up 1973 Chevrolet Nova and drives two miles from the gym to his home. Once there, he heads to the kitchen, grabs a coconut from the refrigerator and lops off the top with a cleaver — “like they do in Brazil,” he said.

Faber’s lunch is coconut milk, a bottle of apple cider vinegar and a meal of salmon and spaghetti squash from Trifecta Nutrition, the Sacramento-based company that just signed multimillion-dollar deals with the UFC and PGA Tour to be their meal delivery partner. Faber owns a piece of Trifecta.

Becoming a businessperson was necessary early in his fighting career, Faber said. He had dreams of being a mixed martial artist, but there was no money in it at the time, especially in his 145-pound weight class. The UFC didn’t have divisions lower than 155 pounds until 2010, when it absorbed World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC), for which Faber was the longtime featherweight champion. Faber made his pro debut in 2003. At that time, there were few athletes in Sacramento training in mixed martial arts. The sport wasn’t even legal in California until 2006.

The first business Faber owned was called Top of the Line Coaching, which he ran out of the gym of University of California at Davis, where he was a star wrestler. Around that time, just after he graduated with a human development degree in 2003, Faber started Alpha Male Clothing and a fighter management company. Next was Ultimate Fitness, the first MMA gym in Sacramento. The original location, opened in 2006, was 8,500 square feet; the current location, completed in 2016, is, 24,000 square feet.

“I didn’t even know what the hell I was doing at the time,” Faber said. “The biggest thing is being fearless. I don’t worry about s—. I just do what I want to do.”

2 Related

Over the past 16 years, Faber has built the life he desired. The current phase is settling down with a family. Of course, he wouldn’t be Faber if he wasn’t trying to juggle multiple things, including now a return fight.

After lunch, Faber chats with his fiancée and dotes on Cali. He doesn’t get a ton of downtime during the day, especially during training camp, but when he can, he makes the five-minute drive home. Sunday is designated family day.

Fight camp is a new experience for Ome. She and Faber started dating in 2017, months after his “retirement” fight. Ome said everyone saw his return coming, however. Faber never formally retired from the UFC by removing himself from the USADA drug-testing pool. In fact, USADA doping control officers came to the hospital the day Cali was born to collect a urine sample from Faber.

“I wasn’t around when he was fighting, so I don’t really know what to expect,” Ome said. “Obviously, I don’t want him to get hurt. I feel like he’s done it for half of his life, so he knows what he’s doing.”

After a quick shower, it’s 12:57 p.m. and time to get back to Ultimate Fitness for a meeting. Two sales representatives with The Superlative Group are coming to the gym to chat about getting the team sponsorships and naming rights deals.

The sit-down with Superlative wraps after about an hour, and one of the sales reps says he’ll be back in Sacramento in a week if they want to talk more about a deal. Ultimate Fitness general manager Tom Waddell says it might be tough to schedule anything with Faber’s fight so close.

“I’m all good,” Faber says, waving his hand.

After a meeting with gym fitness director Gerred Tolson, Faber heads to the mat area for a 3 p.m. boxing class with coach Joey Rodriguez. Offensive boxing is the thing Faber has been focusing on most during this comeback camp. Faber believes his grappling is better than ever after training for matches against champions such as Paulo Miyao and Nicky Ryan. He trusts in his defensive ability. But as far as offensive striking techniques, Faber is rusty.

The class is 90 minutes long, but Faber doesn’t miss a beat. He has been up since 7 a.m., made his first trip to the gym at 7:45 a.m. to work on its new podcast studio and has only eaten once all day. Now, it’s 4:53 p.m. and he is heading to his mother’s house to swap cars. There, he sits down for 10 minutes for a quick bite — some soup and half of a grilled-cheese-and-avocado sandwich.

Faber said he “learned a lot about hustling” from Suzanne Yates, his mother. She opened up a coffee shop when he was in seventh grade in Lincoln, California, and the business changed the family’s fortunes. Faber worked there. He also did television commercials and fashion shows in his youth. Yates was originally a model herself. Faber’s father is a longtime contractor.

“I knew he’d always be a go-getter of some sort,” Yates said of her son.

Faber retired from MMA with a unanimous decision victory over Brad Pickett at UFC Fight Night in Sacramento in December 2016. Jeff Chiu/AP

The visit to see Mom is brief. Faber has a 5:30 p.m. meeting downtown with Greg Connolly, the co-founder of Trifecta. The company just bought three floors in a historic Sacramento building nearby Golden 1 Center, where the NBA Kings play and where Faber will fight in a few days. Faber drops in for a tour of the new digs. Trifecta now has its own space in the UFC Performance Institute and is feeding about 80 percent of UFC fighters during fight weeks, Connolly said.

Faber said he consulted with combat sports legends Dan Henderson, Roy Jones Jr. and Murilo Bustamante about coming back to fighting. He also has leaned lately on former amateur wrestling world champion Lee Kemp, a successful businessman and coach with Team Alpha Male.

“He’s still trying to learn,” Kemp said. “This is bigger than a sport; this is his lifestyle. I don’t think you can be great at something unless you know you can be great. Urijah has that special something — that follow-through.”

“I’ve been wanting to fight some people. Irritated by some stuff, motivated by other stuff. Just knowing that it’s coming.”

Urijah Faber

Faber considers himself a creative and a creator. That extends to having a good eye for talent and the development of young fighters. Faber recruited former UFC champions Garbrandt and TJ Dillashaw and longtime flyweight contender Joseph Benavidez to Team Alpha Male long before they took off. Faber’s next prodigy is 21-year-old Chinese prospect Song Yadong, who knocked out Alejandro Perez in the first round last Saturday at UFC 239. The fighters who come to train at Ultimate Fitness from out of town stay in a row of homes that Faber owns near the gym.

At 5:58 p.m., Faber leaves downtown en route back to Ultimate Fitness for his final workout of the day, a private striking session with Slava Borshchev, a Russian kickboxer making a transition to MMA. On the way, Faber takes a call from UFC fighter Alex Munoz, who is having some issues involving the Ultimate Fitness kids’ wrestling program he helps run. That’s another part of Faber’s days — quelling gym drama.

Faber stops at home to pick up Ome and Cali.

“Cali loves to watch [Faber] train. She loves watching all the guys train,” Ome said. “We just try to spend as much time together we can.”

Faber and family get to Ultimate Fitness at 6:34 p.m. His session with Borshchev ends by 8 p.m. Afterward, Faber chats with Josh Emmett, who also fights at UFC Sacramento. The gym is busy these days.

“It’s not just today,” Waddell said. “Every day for Urijah is like this.”

Faber is back, trying to build upon a legacy that earned him induction into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2017. Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

As the family finally returns home close to 9 p.m., Faber and Ome are relieved that Cali has been sleeping through the night so far. Faber has been too, which has not always been the case. Sleep has been one of his most hated foes over the years.

Tommy Schurkamp, Faber’s old UC Davis wrestling buddy and now part of his “executive team,” said that Faber always has had trouble “turning his brain off.” Schurkamp’s wife, Candace, who is another close Faber confidante, said Faber gets “minimal sleep,” and then about every three months when he does crash, “it’s like 16 hours.”

The thought of being in a state where he is not productive eats at Faber.

“I love being awake, and I won’t let myself sleep in when I have s— to do,” Faber said. “I really do enjoy being awake — I don’t want to sleep.”

The gears in Faber’s head keep turning, and it’s only gotten more intense with a return fight on deck and the baby. He said he is not sure if this is a one-off or he is back to MMA permanently. Faber, dollar signs in his eyes, said he felt like giving UFC bantamweight and flyweight champion Henry Cejudo “a big hug” when Cejudo called him out after winning the bantamweight title at UFC 238 last month.

“We’ll see,” Faber said of his comeback length. “It’s a lot of work getting yourself back in fight mode. I lean toward the side of sticking it out.”

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