I am going to always remember Jan. 17, 2016.
Not a lot due to the nice TJ Dillashaw vs. Dominick Cruz UFC bantamweight title combat that occurred that night time in Boston (it was a very nice combat and price watching, when you’ve by no means seen it earlier than), however due to what Cruz stated to me afterward.
Earlier than I share what that was, and why it is related as Cruz prepares to problem bantamweight champ Henry Cejudo at UFC 249 on Might 9, this is some context:
Cruz made his MMA debut in 2005 and began his profession an ideal 9-0.
That is when he met future bitter rival Urijah Faber at WEC 26 in March 2007 for the World Excessive Cagefighting featherweight title.
Cruz did not put up a lot of a combat that night time. He misplaced in 1:38 through guillotine choke, and it was unclear if he would ever quantity to a lot in MMA. Faber, the face of the WEC and among the finest lighter-weight fighters on the planet on the time, simply appeared that significantly better.
However then Cruz dropped all the way down to 135 and all the pieces modified.
He proceeded to win his subsequent six fights in a row en path to turning into the WEC bantamweight champion. He defended that belt 4 instances, because the division was absorbed into the UFC, the place Cruz was topped the inaugural UFC bantamweight champion.
He was Mr. Dependable. The king of the bantamweights, getting higher with every combat. He wore that belt proudly.
In his third title protection, on July 2, 2011, all was proper on the planet of Dominick Cruz. On that night time, he headlined the UFC’s annual July Four weekend present — which is all the time an enormous deal — towards the person who handed him the one lack of his profession, Faber. This time it was Cruz defending his title and this time it was Cruz who had his hand raised on the finish of the night time, defeating Faber through unanimous resolution.
He adopted that up by serving Demetrious Johnson a butt-whupping in October 2011 that despatched Johnson all the way down to 125 for good (and everyone knows how that turned out).
Cruz was now a formidable 19-1, and nonetheless the champ.
I can not stress this sufficient: Cruz was one of many absolute best fighters on the planet at that time. He was shifting and grooving on the market not like most fighters, and he had a stage of supreme confidence that made individuals suppose that he might go down as among the finest to ever do it.
Life was good for Cruz. He was a champion, one of many faces of the game and it regarded like nobody might contact him at 135.
He was chosen to teach the 15th season of The Final Fighter, reverse Faber, which was to culminate of their extremely anticipated trilogy combat on July 7, 2012, at UFC 148. This was an important spot to be in.
After which all the pieces modified.
On Might 7, 2012, two months earlier than that third Faber combat and whereas filming TUF, Cruz tore his left ACL. The trilogy must wait, however extra importantly, life would by no means be the identical once more for Cruz.
I bear in mind chatting with him two weeks after he suffered that harm in Las Vegas. He was tense, upset, quick along with his solutions. He did not need to speak to me that day, I might really feel it. His profession was now up within the air. It was uncomfortable. I felt dangerous for him.
In December 2012, Cruz underwent one other ACL surgical procedure as a result of his physique rejected the unique cadaver tissue inserted by docs over the summer season.
In late December 2013, Cruz, who was now totally recovered from the a number of ACL surgical procedures, tore his groin and was pressured to not solely withdraw from his February 2014 title combat towards Renan Barao, but additionally needed to relinquish that title.
This sequence of occasions was probably the most miserable I’ve seen overlaying MMA.
Here is an athlete on the high of his sport, who continues to be sidelined by critical accidents. You could not assist however really feel horribly for Cruz.
I do know having to surrender that belt affected Cruz deeply. No champion needs to lose the title that approach. However getting it again additionally fueled him.
Ultimately, it took Cruz three years to return to motion. He was booked to combat high contender Takeya Mizugaki in September 2014 and it felt like the complete MMA world prayed Cruz would simply make it to the combat. Nobody needed to see him undergo one other setback.
Cruz made it to the combat, and it solely took 61 seconds for him to eliminate Mizugaki. What a second that was. As emotional as I’ve seen within the UFC.
That win bought Cruz one other crack on the belt. All was about to be proper once more on the planet of Dominick Cruz.
Three months later, he tore the ACL in his different knee, the appropriate one. Critically.
One other 12 months out. Extra heartbreak.
At this level, I would think about most conventional people would have given up. They’d say, “Hey, it has been a pleasant run. I gained the belt. I made some cash. Let’s simply transfer on.” I imply, who might endure so many setbacks? Clearly, Cruz’s physique was attempting to inform him one thing.
Dominick Cruz is not most conventional people.
You see, not solely is Cruz an incredible athlete, he is additionally a bit cussed. He is argumentative. He likes a superb debate and he likes to show individuals fallacious. Typically this will rub individuals the fallacious approach, as a result of he offers off a “smartest man within the room” vibe, however I prefer it. That is what makes him distinctive.
So, he labored his approach again. This was by no means a query in his thoughts. He heard about everybody writing him off, and he was going to show us all fallacious. It was wonderful listening to him speak about one other highway to restoration. He by no means wavered. It was virtually as if he was the one one on this planet who knew how this film was going to finish, and he could not look forward to us to catch as much as him.
On Jan. 17, 2016, he fought Dillashaw for the bantamweight title.
Dillashaw was rolling at this level, scoring two spectacular wins over Barao the 12 months earlier than. To be trustworthy, he regarded like a brand new and improved model of Cruz.
The title combat was one for the spotlight reel. A lot enjoyable to look at. Ultimately, Cruz gained a detailed resolution. He really did it. He proved us all fallacious. He was champion once more. All was proper on the planet for Dominick Cruz. Once more.
Do I bear in mind all of the highlights of that combat? No. It has been over 4 years, in spite of everything.
However I’ll always remember what Cruz stated to me afterward.
After the postfight information convention, I requested him if this was the best second of his life. I would think about it was, contemplating all the pieces he needed to endure to win the belt once more.
“No,” he stated, not lacking a beat.
“The best second in my life was realizing I did not want a belt to be joyful.”
I get chills simply considering of that reply. It is probably the most highly effective issues a fighter has ever stated to me.
Right here I used to be, considering the belt was what fueled this newest comeback. I could not have been extra fallacious.
You must perceive, for all these women and men who dream of being UFC fighters, the belt is all the pieces. It is the sunshine on the finish of the depressing tunnel. It is their golden ticket.
For some, the belt is a good motivator. However others will permit it to interrupt them. The belt proves to be a supply of approach an excessive amount of strain, they usually find yourself falling in need of their desires.
So, to listen to Cruz, who had been by means of a lot over the earlier 4½ years, together with getting stripped of the title, say that he did not want the belt to be joyful — man, what a revelation.
I’ll love that quote perpetually due to the honesty hooked up to it but additionally as a result of it represents why Cruz was so harmful after that combat. He was joyful and did not have the strain of the belt on his shoulders.
Cruz lastly beat Faber a 3rd time later in 2016, however fell to Cody Garbrandt on the finish of the 12 months. It was his first loss in 9 years.
He hasn’t fought since. Why? Extra accidents.
However now right here he’s, on the cusp of combating for the belt once more. In 2020. Eight years after he suffered that first devastating harm.
And make no mistake about it, he needs that belt. He’d like to be champion once more. However the prospect of dropping this title combat towards Cejudo is not terrifying to him. He would not want the belt to be joyful. It would not outline him, maybe, like gold defines Cejudo.
So, whilst you’re at dwelling debating whether or not Dominick Cruz deserves to be combating a champion who hasn’t defended the 135-pound title as soon as, bear in mind the person who put this division on the map all these years in the past. Bear in mind the person who overcame accidents that might derail most mortals. Bear in mind the person who laid the groundwork for fighters like Cejudo to earn cash as a bantamweight.
On the postfight information convention following the Garbrandt combat, Cruz stood up the complete time. I had by no means seen anybody do that earlier than.
On the very finish, I requested him why he did not sit.
“Why would I sit down?” he stated in his ordinary matter-of-fact tone. “I am all the time on my toes.”
Dominick Cruz has been knocked down loads of instances. Extra instances than he cares to rely at this level.
However he is nonetheless standing. He is nonetheless joyful. And he is right here to show you all fallacious. Once more.