Dominick “The Dominator” Cruz is back, and he’s already stirring the pot.
Cruz completed one of the greatest career comebacks in MMA history last weekend by dethroning TJ Dillashaw to win back the bantamweight title. He has a target on his back once again, with contenders and champions alike chomping at the bit to challenge for his belt. Here are some potential match-ups Cruz could take in his first title defense.
Cruz is 21-1 as a pro, and the only blemish on his record comes courtesy of “The California Kid.” Cruz has already avenged that 2007 loss by besting the Team Alpha Male fighter in 2011 to defend his UFC belt. Despite that, Faber stands as the only man to have ever beaten the current champ. They are 1-1 against each other, and Faber is pushing for a rubber match to settle the score.
The current flyweight champ is running out of competition at 125 pounds, and a move up to bantamweight to fight for the belt might be what he needs to reinvigorate himself. “DJ” (who’s currently ranked No. 2 in the world, pound-for-pound) has challenged Cruz before, losing via decision back in 2011, but that was before MMA mastermind Matt Hume transformed him into the stone-cold killer he is today. A superfight between two champions would definitely make for an interesting headliner.
It seems like the norm nowadays for there to be talk of a rematch once a champion is dethroned, and it’s no different here. Dillashaw’s split decision loss doesn’t appear to be highway robbery, but it was a very close and competitive match, one which many believe should’ve gone the way of Dillashaw. It’s unlikely, but a rematch between the two isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
In February 2014, then-interim champ Barao was supposed to take on then-champ Cruz at UFC 169. That fight fell through as Cruz suffered a groin injury, was stripped of his title, and Barao moved on to become the undisputed champion and defend his belt against Urijah Faber. Barao has said he’ll be competing at featherweight next but could move back down to bantamweight after. There’s certainly some unfinished business between him and Cruz, and it would be interesting to finally see this fight come to fruition.
The Filipino banter “give chance to others” applies here. After all, there’s a whole division waiting to take on the champ, with top contenders like Raphael Assuncao and Aljamain Sterling waiting in the wings. They might not be big-name opponents like the above-mentioned fighters, but developing a new star in a headliner against Cruz would be good for the UFC and the division.
Main photo by John Pangilinan Photography (www.photosbyjohnp.com)