- Associated Press - Thursday, December 15, 2016

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - As he prepares for the final fight of his career, UFC bantamweight Urijah Faber is still wrestling with his emotions.

On one hand, he’s fully prepared to step away from the sport that has made him wealthy and a household name in the MMA world.

On the other, the 37-year-old Faber is unflinchingly confident that he can still get it done inside the octagon that has been his home away from home for more than two decades.

“I know for sure when I walk out to the cage it’s going to be a different type of feeling,” Faber told The Associated Press this week. “I really believe that, because of everything that’s going on, in my hometown, my last fight. It is going to be a little bittersweet because I know I can still compete at the highest level and I’m still all there.”

By all there, Faber means he is physically fine after 43 professional matches in the now-defunct World Extreme Cagefighting and UFC.

Along the way, Faber became highly popular with fans for his grit, charming smile, playful personality and a willingness to fight whoever was put in front of him.

That he never won a UFC title is merely a blip on Faber’s otherwise stellar career.

“This is a very rough way to make a living,” Faber said. “It goes without saying that there are trials and tribulations with being a professional fighter.”

Faber has been through it all, from refusing to quit after breaking both of his hands early in one fight to his three classic bouts with current UFC bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz, including their title fight at UFC 199 in June.

It was Faber, the California Kid, who brought attention to the lower weight classes in MMA at a time when media and fans were focused almost solely on the middleweights and heavyweights.

Though he didn’t make much money initially - “$200 to show up, $200 to win,” Faber said - the Sacramento native was a big draw because fans were taken in by his style inside the octagon and his charm outside of it.

Not much has changed over his 13-year career. Faber (33-10) is almost certain to receive a thunderous response from the crowd at GoldenOne Center when he walks to the cage to face Brad Pickett (26-12) on Saturday.

The Faber-Pickett fight is on the undercard on the nationally televised show. The main event is a bout featuring strawweight contenders Paige VanZant - a Faber disciple ranked No. 8 in her division - and Michelle Waterson.

It’s those walks down the aisle and through the crowd that Faber says he will miss the most.

“The walks are the thing that you didn’t expect coming into this and didn’t imagine,” Faber said. “That walk is a very unique time when everybody is focusing their energy on you, it’s about you and thousands of people watching. I’ll miss that.”

Faber acknowledged the decision to retire was difficult but one that was made easier because of his other interests. He has invested in a clothing line, a supplement business and has a family construction company to keep him busy.

“Without a doubt, if I had no other means or confidence to survive without fighting I would probably drag it out another decade,” he said. “Some of my peers have done that. They did a great job but for me I feel like I can focus my time and energy and maintain my health in the next phase.”

It’s not as if Faber is leaving the MMA world entirely. Earlier this year he opened an Ultimate Fitness gym in Sacramento, a 22,000-square-foot facility that houses Faber’s crew of fighters, Team Alpha Male.

Faber plans to continue coaching and mentoring the young fighters. He also hasn’t closed the door on a possible return to the ring himself, although it would have to be under the right conditions.

“I’m very able-bodied and able-minded so I would never rule that out,” Faber said. “But it’s a if-you-don’t-use-it-you-lose-it kind of deal. I’m curious how my desire will be to have a hard workout. I’ve done that for years. There are times when you love it and times when it’s a grind. I’m curious how I’ll feel.”

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