If Mike Rio ever wins a major mixed martial arts championship, or if he ever becomes more than a blip on the radar screen, he’ll need to publicly thank Urijah Faber.
Faber is the former world champion and UFC star who, along with UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, is serving as a coach on the current season of “The Ultimate Fighter.”
Following Al Iaquinta’s overtime victory over Myles Jury on Friday, Faber had the right to make the pick for this week’s fight, which will be live on FX. He knew Rio had an injured knee and would be at his most vulnerable.
But when Faber chose the matchup, he picked Jeremy Larsen of Team Cruz to face his fighter, Mike Chiesa. Never did he consider going to Rio, despite the fact it may have been the most certain path to another win and knotting the score.
“These guys are here with a dream and I don’t want to take that dream away from them, even guys on Dominick’s team,” Faber said. “That would be exploiting them. If he were the guy we were going to pick anyway [before learning of the injury], that would be one thing.
“But I wasn’t going to pick him just because he was [injured]. Who knows what might have happened? I want to see the guys win or lose on their own merits, and that isn’t anything you’d see me try to take advantage of.”
The win by Iaquinta prevented Cruz’s team from going up 3-0 and perhaps sweeping the competition. It was critical from a number of standpoints, but Faber said he’s made up his mind that he’ll be Mister Positive for the duration of the season, regardless of the results.
He said things easily could have been different. In Week 1, Team Cruz’s James Vick knocked out Daron Cruickshank, but it was a fight that Cruickshank had been winning. Had Cruickshank not been caught with the knee, he likely would have won the fight and that would have allowed Faber to control the next match instead of Cruz.
“There is a lot of talent here and I think there are going to be guys who become regulars in the UFC,” Faber said of the cast of Season 15. “The Cruickshank thing was unfortunate and bad luck, but it put us at a big disadvantage and put them in a position where, if the matchups fell the right way, they could have possibly swept them.
“Guys have the ability [to fight in the UFC], but it’s up to them how they decide to take advantage of it. A lot of these guys, I think, are going to drop to 145 [from lightweight], but there is some legitimate talent here.”