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SportsColumnistsMark La Monica

Does exciting style hurt Faber?

Urijah Faber, left, takes a kick from Dominick

Urijah Faber, left, takes a kick from Dominick Cruz during the third round of their UFC bantamweight title match at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Cruz won by unanimous decision. (July 2, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

His body sore, his muscles in agony, Urijah Faber pushed forward. And that was five days after his fight. Sure, the workout was part of a promotional tour to show off the new UFC Personal Trainer video game, but maybe that's why despite losing his past four title fights, fans still appreciate what "The California Kid" and his 5-6, 135-pound body does inside the cage.

That was Thursday. The Saturday prior, Faber fought 25 minutes, the maximum time in a mixed martial arts bout, against UFC champion Dominick Cruz. Action was fast, the pace furious, as it so often is with bantamweights and the smaller fighters. Faber nearly won every round. He nearly lost every round. That's the excitement level he operates on.

"Right after the fight, I thought I won, on the account I didn't feel like I got beat up, and I knocked him down," Faber said.

Maybe Faber could have wrestled more than he did. Perhaps he could have tried to be more elusive. Or maybe in his exhausting battle with Cruz at UFC 132, Faber could have tried to score more points with the judges instead of looking to land a big knockout shot.

Or maybe not.

"Had I got the nod on the decision, I'd be saying I did exactly what I wanted to do," Faber said.

And so we have the modern reality of MMA. No one knows what will happen when the folks charged by a state athletic commission with rendering a decision submit their scores. It's the second oldest cliché in MMA, right behind "styles win fights."

In the moments immediately after losing by unanimous decision, Faber said he thought he won the bout. They all say that. But not many say this: "Watching the fight over, it was kind of a close fight."

One judge scored every round for Cruz. "That's ridiculous," Faber said. "That guy needs to quit. Somebody needs to put a stop to that guy."

But Faber has far larger things to concern himself with besides one judge who weighed the bout heavily in favor of his opponent. Faber has lost his aura of invincibility. At age 32, perhaps he is slowing down while Cruz and others are speeding up.

What does Faber do now? Is his fighting style, which won him 25 bouts and is thrilling to watch, still a successful approach? With high-level wrestling skills, solid submissions and fast hands, Faber would appear to be the ideal mixed martial artist. But something is amiss, at least in title fights.

Jose Aldo beat up Faber mercilessly for five rounds. Cruz was able to keep pace and beat Faber. Mike Brown first took Faber's WEC featherweight title in November 2008 and defended it again seven months later.

Fans want an instant rematch with Cruz to complete their trilogy (Faber won the first bout in 2007). It would sell tickets and pay-per-views because they're still the top two contenders at bantamweight. But Faber knows he may need another fight before that.

"I'm not going to really push for anything specific," Faber said about his next fight. "I understand it was a close fight. I feel like I'm right there ready for a shot. I'll do whatever they say. I want to get that belt, and get myself established at 135 first."

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