Dominick Cruz plans to show T.J. Dillashaw ‘he was never the champ’

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Dominick Cruz is surely the most injury-plagued fighter in the history of the UFC.

Reigning UFC Bantamweight Champion at the time, Cruz tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee in May 2012. A failed surgery meant he needed to undergo a second operation to repair the ligament in December of the same year. Finally set to return in early 2014 to face Renan Barao, who had been crowned interim champion in his absence, Cruz suffered another devastating injury, this time to his groin, and was forced to vacate the bantamweight belt entirely.

When Cruz did finally make his return it was on the preliminary card of UFC 178, several fights under a certain Conor McGregor, a fighter very few UFC fans had even heard of when injury first struck “The Dominator” in 2012. Cruz faced Takeya Mizugaki and won by first round knockout in one of the most impressive performances of his career. So impressive was the performance, in fact, that it earned him the promise of an immediate title shot.

Incredibly, just three months later, news broke that Cruz had suffered another ACL tear, this time to his right knee. This, the latest in a catalogue of horrific injuries, is likely to keep Cruz sidelined until late 2015. Speaking on an episode of The MMA Hour recently, Cruz gave the following prognosis:

“I am looking at probably nine months. A typical ACL surgery is six to nine months, minimum. I’m just going to say nine months, because that’s what the doctors say. That can be later or a little bit sooner. There is no way that it will be faster than six months.”

Technically, Cruz never lost his belt. He vacated it. Consequently, he views anybody who has held the title in his absence as an imposter. Despite what will be another lengthy lay-off, Cruz is determined reclaim the bantamweight crown as soon as he returns.

“That’s really what I want, to go straight after [T.J.] Dillashaw or whoever has the title,” Cruz told MMAFighting.com. “I think Dillashaw is gonna have it. I want to fight him and show him that he never was the best, he never was the champ.”

Cruz’s 61-second win over Mizugaki in September reaffirmed for the former champion that he is still among the elite in the 135-pound division. In his first fight in almost three years victory was crucial, and it instilled him with the requisite self-belief to take on Dillashaw – or whoever holds the title – as soon as he returns.

“What you don’t know is how you compete with the best guys in the world, the top five in the division,” Cruz said. “And you also don’t know how you’re going to react under those lights, when you see all the people and go through all the media. What I realized is that it’s more fun and better than it was before. So I cannot wait to be back.”

Notwithstanding his hiatus from the sport, Cruz (20-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC) is currently riding an 11-fight winning streak that includes victories over some of the best fighters in MMA. He hasn’t lost since tapping to a guillotine choke at the hands of his nemesis, Uriah Faber, in 2007. In September last year he showed that ‘ring rust’ wasn’t a factor, and when he returns from his third knee surgery, the 30-year old former champion expects to pick up where he left off.

“I know what I’m capable of after my body has been completely broken down and rebuilt and I’m just as good as I ever was, if not better,” Cruz said. “So I’m excited to come back and win that title.”

The Bantamweight title will be on the line next month in Montreal when champion T.J. Dillashaw (11-2 MMA, 7-2 UFC) rematches challenger Renan Barao (33-2 MMA, 8-1 UFC) in the main event at UFC 186. Cruz will be watching closely, one suspects, in anticipation of potentially facing the winner later this year. For now though, he is focused on his recovery.

“I’ve accepted that my knee is hurt and I need to just wait around until it heals. When it heals, what really gives me peace is that I can go out there and still perform at the highest level against the best in the world.”