Former UFC bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz will have the chance to regain his championship status when he meets reigning champ TJ Dillashaw this weekend. Here, we recap some of Cruz’s career highlights.
1. A strong start
Cruz made his pro MMA debut in January 2005, against Eddie Castro at Rage in the Cage 67, winning via split-decision. It may have been a shaky start, but the eight straight wins that followed, which included five wins via stoppage (five via TKO, one via submission), established Cruz as one of the most promising young talents on the regional scene.
Dominick even managed the impressive accomplishment of becoming a two-division champion under the Total Combat banner, winning the promotion’s vacant lightweight title in September 2006 before dropping to featherweight two months later and winning the vacant title there. The two straight title wins proved enough to catch the attention of WEC promoters, who slotted Cruz straight in for an immediate 145lb title shot against champ Urijah Faber. Cruz would love the fight via submission, but the fight gave rise to one of the greatest rivalries in lighter-weight MMA history.
2. Claiming the top spot
Cruz dropped to 135lb in June 2008 and embarked on a 4-0 streak to earn a championship fight against Brian Bowles. After two rounds of action, the doctor called a stop to the contest due to a broken hand for Bowles, and Cruz was awarded the win via TKO.
The Alliance MMA standout would go on to defend his title successfully on two occasions, against Joseph Benavidez and Scott Jorgensen, solidifying him as the world’s top bantamweight MMA fighter. The WEC’s bantamweight division was later absorbed into the UFC.
3. Sweet revenge
For his first UFC championship fight, Cruz was put in against his old bitter rival Urijah Faber. The first UFC bantamweight title fight in UFC history took place at UFC 132 in July 2011.
The fight was highly competitive but ‘The Dominator’ clearly demonstrated that he had evolved hugely in all areas of the game since his ’07 loss to Faber. After five rounds, it was Cruz who was awarded the unanimous decision victory to remain the UFC bantamweight champ and even the score with ‘The California Kid’.
4. TUF goes live
After successfully defending his title once more, against Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson, Cruz was picked to host the first (and only) live season of UFC reality show The Ultimate Fighter. To make things more interesting, Faber was selected as the opposing coach. Faber had defeated former WEC champ Brian Bowles via submission since losing the rematch to Cruz, and was hungry for a trilogy fight against his nemesis.
The show took the Cruz-Faber rivalry to new heights and, even though their last meeting hadn’t been the most exciting of affairs, it was nevertheless effective in getting fans hyped for a rubber match. Unfortunately, the first in a string of injuries for Cruz knocked him off the show and he was replaced by top contender Renan Barao. Barao would go on to beat Faber for the interim title and later be awarded the undisputed title after Cruz was stripped due to a lengthy period of inactivity.
5. Back and better than ever
Cruz finally made his return to fighting at UFC 178 in September 2014 after almost three years sitting on the sidelines with injuries. Anticipation for his return was high as no one knew what to expect from the former champ.
There were many who thought Cruz’s string of injuries would make him more fragile, while others felt simple cage rust would play a big factor in his performance. But the former 135lb champ proved all doubters wrong when he put on arguably the most impressive performance of his entire career against Takeya Mizugaki, finishing his respected Japanese opponent in just over one minute with strikes for the KO win. Cruz was event awarded a ‘Performance of the Night’ bonus for his impressive display.
The victory guaranteed Dominick a shot at his old title, which was and still is now in the possession of TJ Dillashaw. Unfortunately, yet another injury kept him out for the entirety of 2015. Cruz will now finally meet Dillashaw in one of the most stylistically intriguing bouts in recent memory at UFC Fight Night 81 on January 17th.