Who is the greatest bantamweight of all time?
There is a short-list of bantamweight GOATs in such a young division that was a forked up by the UFC in 2010 & rebranded from the WEC. The division has been dramatic and hosted phenomenal names such as Renan Barão, TJ Dillashaw, Cody Garbrandt & many more names. When discussing the prospect of the bantamweight goat, there is no doubt Dominick Cruz enters the conversation who came into the UFC as the first 135-pound champion. Tragically, he would suffer close career-ending injuries that would force him to relinquish the belt and take a 3-year long hiatus from the sport. He would proceed to pull off a historic comeback against TJ Dillashaw in 2016 to achieve the status of 2-time bantamweight champion. He’s no doubt in the conversation.
That narrative was 4 years ago. Dominick would fall short against Team Alpha Male’s Cody Garbrandt and lose the title. Déjà vu, Dominick would suffer another series of injuries that would put him out of the sport for another 3 years with two cancelled bouts against Jimmy Rivera & John Lineker. The most recent chapter to be written in his career was his eventual return at UFC 249 against then-champion Henry Cejudo. Dominick fell short once more with a 2nd round TKO loss.
With Dominick cemented as possibly one of the greatest to ever do it, the story isn’t finished yet. The Dominator is scheduled to return to the octagon on March 6th against Casey Kenney for the prelim main event at UFC 259. The choice to place Dominick Cruz as a prelim main event is ostensibly peculiar, who hasn’t fought off the main card since UFC 178 in 2014. Cruz remains a household name among the lower weight divisions and at 35 years old should not be considered a fighter in his twilight years who’s holding on too long. Moreover, his opponent Casey Kenney hardly seems a formidable foe worthy of a match-up with Dominick. No disrespect intended, Kenney is riding a respectable 3-fight win streak and holds a notable victory over veteran Ray Borg. However, hardly a resumé worthy of a bout with the bantamweight goat who just fought for the title. It almost feels like the UFC is engaging in grooming Dominick before throwing him back in with the real lions of the division (i.e Cody Garbrant, Cory Sandhagen, Petr Yan, or Aljamain Sterling). An unusual move for the UFC who generally don’t engage in easing fighters back into the fray and generally embrace a pure Darwinism style in their match-making.
It will be interesting to view Dominick’s adjustments to his overall game given that he’s coming off two losses. His loss at UFC 207 might be more down to Cody’s unbelievable performance, who looked to be on a different level in terms of timing, reaction-time & speed that night. He was reportedly plagued with injuries throughout camp that may have compromised his performance as well. Skip ahead to UFC 249, a definite factor in his loss to Henry Cejudo were the leg kicks, that worked effectively to slow down the signature footwork of Cruz. This ultimately led to an ice-cold knee that put the former champ out on his back.
A successful comeback at UFC 259 seems likely for Dominick, but wouldn’t scratch the surface of the competition that lies ahead. The division has undergone serious transformation in his hiatus with a contender line that is long & deadly. The biggest commercial opportunities lie with his rivalries with TJ &Cody. It is a bitter love triangle where everyone holds a victory over the next, and a rematch with either could place another block on Dominick’s legacy tower.