urijah-faber-35.jpgIncluded in this week’s UFC Fan Expo in Las Vegas will be an event a pair of UFC elite fighters hope takes MMA to the next level.

The first MMA Draft Combine takes place Saturday as part of the Expo and is an opportunity for amateur fighters to get noticed a little bit quicker.

Created by UFC light heavyweight Phil Davis and current bantamweight contender and former featherweight champion Urijah Faber, MMA Draft has its own website devoted to upping the ante for amateur fighters.

The UFC Fan Expo takes place Friday and Saturday in conjunction with UFC 162, which takes place Saturday at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The Fan Expo takes place at the nearby Mandalay Bay Convention Center.

“I think that’s the next step in the evolution of our sport – having the top amateurs celebrated like they are in football, basketball, baseball, soccer,” Faber told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “You know the top guys from the college teams, you know the No. 1 draft picks and stuff like that. In MMA, it’s a real crapshoot and everyone’s washing dishes and mowing lawns until they’re 6-0 or 7-0 as a fighter.”

Davis said Faber’s long standing as the founder of Sacramento’s Team Alpha Male, where he consistently works with fresh talent, played a role in helping develop the idea for the program.

“He has a great amateur team – they’re all super talented,” Davis said this past month in Las Vegas. “So when I came to him with MMA Draft, he was all about it.”

But more than anything, it’s about helping the best amateur fighters get a leg up in a sport that can be hard to succeed in.

Davis and Faber both have backgrounds as elite-level college wrestlers, and when college wrestling ends for those athletes these days, many are turning to MMA.

“I really wanted to develop something to be able to give back to the wrestling community,” Davis said. “So we came up with this idea to give back to the amateur athletes. MMA is nine-tenths at the amateur level, and even to be a professional athlete, you struggle most of the time. I’m struggling right now. So it’s just a way to give the amateur guys a platform to be seen, to get their name out there and to really gain some traction before they start their professional career.”

The dedicated MMA Draft website is used as a starting point for amateur fighters. But Faber said in some cases, he and Davis sought out top gyms and fight teams to get their amateur prospects interested in coming to Las Vegas for Saturday’s combine.

Faber told MMAjunkie.com the combine will include sport-related physical tests as well as tests of mental acumen.

“We have some standardized testing like they use for basketball, football and baseball, measurements for pure athleticism, we’re going to be doing interviews with a sports psychologist there, working with physical therapists,” Faber said. “And we have MMA-specific testing that we’ve come up with to test their MMA abilities. We’re going to have a ton of my peers there, top fighters and coaches and media to cover it and get some exposure to this next generation of fighters so we can build opportunities for guys and build names for guys before they become pros.”

Although the MMA Draft is not an official UFC-branded event, Faber said getting the promotion on board to host the combine as part of this year’s UFC Fan Expo was fairly easy. UFC co-owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta have highly recruited sons in football – which Faber believes played a role.

“I have a good relationship with (UFC President) Dana (White) and Lorenzo and I had a conference call with them and kind of explained to them what the idea was,” Faber said. “Lorenzo is a big football fan. His sons and his nephews are really talented football players, and I described the website as kind of like a MaxPreps or Rivals.com, which are websites for amateur football, basketball and baseball. We’re just creating content for our site that’s similar for mixed martial arts. We’re not associated with the UFC in any way – it’s all MMA Draft, and we’re holding the combine separate from the UFC and they’re allowing us to be at the UFC Fan Expo. They were pretty cool about it.”

And holding the event in conjunction with the UFC Fan Expo, Davis believes, will help bolster the attention placed on it not just for the amateur fighters, but for outside observers.

“Some of the top kids in the nation, we’re actively recruiting ourselves,” Davis said. “But luckily, the Expo is such an amazing event that most of MMA’s top studs are going to be in town, anyway.”

For the latest on UFC 162 and the UFC Fan Expo, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.

(Pictured: Urijah Faber)

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