Faber focusing on Wineland ... for now


Urijah Faber doesn't need to be told how comfortable Eddie Wineland is in the role of spoiler.

Faber has seen him thrive in the position firsthand.

On March 17, 2006, at the Tachi Palace Hotel in Lemoore, Calif., Faber claimed the WEC featherweight title with a TKO win over Cole Escovedo. Less than two months later, he returned to the venue to watch the first-ever WEC bantamweight title fight between Wineland and Antonio Banuelos.

Banuelos was the clear favorite, riding an eight-fight win streak that included two stoppage victories in the WEC. Wineland was a lesser-known prospect holding a 10-4-1 record. It was his first fight for the organization.

Right or wrong, Wineland figured the WEC saw him as an exciting dance partner for Banuelos, but one who would ultimately fall short. He decided to embrace the role.

"When I fought Antonio, I felt like they said: 'All right. We'll bring this guy in, it will be a good fight, but Antonio is going to win and get the belt,'" Wineland told ESPN.com. "But it didn't exactly go Antonio's way."

No, it didn't. With Faber watching nearby, Wineland absorbed Banuelos' best shots before landing a clean, counter right midway through the first that ended the fight and shocked many of those in attendance.

The outcome didn't change the world of mixed martial arts, but in Wineland's eyes, it threw a wrinkle into the 135-pound division that few saw coming.

At UFC 128 on March 19 in Newark, N.J., Wineland (18-6-1) will once again find himself in position to create a few wrinkles.

The storyline surrounding Faber (24-4) headed into the fight is an intriguing one: Finally in his natural weight class of 135 pounds, Faber appears on the cusp of a shot at his second world title -- which just so happens to be held by a guy he publicly dislikes in Dominick Cruz.

Should Faber win, he'll be 2-0 since dropping to the bantamweight division, and there are rumors he then would be paired with Cruz as opposing coaches on "The Ultimate Fighter" reality series.

In position to disrupt all of this is Wineland. And although some aren't giving the 26-year-old much of a chance to do so, Faber says he's not among them.

"I would say he's being overlooked quite a bit," Faber said. "He's a tough guy. I think he's definitely an underdog for a reason, but that doesn't mean he's not dangerous or that he doesn't have the weapons to win."

Regardless of how comfortable Wineland is in the spoiler role, Faber says he's as confident as he's ever been heading into his long-awaited debut in the UFC.

As the former face of the WEC, Faber says he's accustomed to the spotlight that comes with fighting in a UFC co-main event. He isn't even thinking about the potential fight with Cruz, he says, because win or lose against Wineland, a clash with Cruz is inevitable.

"It's a fight that's going to happen no matter what, eventually," Faber said. "Whether he keeps the belt or doesn't keep the belt, that's just one of those fights that's going to happen. We don't like each other, we want to fight each other and we're two of the best in the world.

"I'm just going to be patient. I'm going to fight a lot of people by the time it's all said and done."

At 31, Faber has similar goals to those he held when he first started his career in 2003.

Before he turned into one of the sport's biggest stars, he wrote down on a piece of paper what he hoped to accomplish: influence his fans, become the best fighter in the world, win a UFC belt.

"I want to be a guy who made a statement in the history of mixed martial arts, and I've done that somewhat," Faber said. "Now it's just feathers in the cap. I want to be a multiple world champion. I want to be a trend-setter inside and outside the cage.

"I feel I have a new start at 135 and in the UFC. I'm just excited to have the opportunity to be where I'm at now and take advantage of it."

It's likely Banuelos had similar feelings when he contemplated being the first 135-pound champion in WEC history -- before Wineland handed him the first knockout loss of his career.

Although Faber was on hand to see Wineland do it the first time, he doesn't expect him to play the spoiler again.

"I can see him thinking that way, but I'm a lot different than Antonio Banuelos," Faber said. "I think he's good at everything; he's just not as good as I am."

Brett Okamoto covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at bokamotoESPN.