Sunday night in Boston, it was like Dominick Cruz had never left.
Forced from the sport he loves for most of the last four years because of injury, Cruz returned in all his glory to reclaim the bantamweight championship in a five-round classic against now-former champion TJ Dillashaw at TD Garden.
More from Fight Night Boston: Full results | Post-fight bonus recap | WATCH: Dana White’s final verdict | Talking Points after Boston | #ANDNEW! Cruz beats Dillashaw by split decision | Faber agrees Cruz won; Doesn’t want Dillashaw fight | Alvarez gets close win, Browne and Trinaldo also victorious | Felder delivers when he needs it most | Cote, Hernan get big TKO’s in prelims | Latifi, Rosa among early winners on FIGHT PASS | Watch the FIGHT PASS prelims here | Octagon interviews: Dominick Cruz, Dominick Cruz and TJ Dillashaw, Paul Felder | Backstage interviews: Eddie Alvarez, Travis Browne, Patrick Cote, Ed Herman, Luke Sanders | Best Images from Fight Night Boston
Cruz was as elusive, creative and determined as ever against Dillashaw, who, even in defeat, proved his mettle as champion, doing almost enough to reject Cruz’s comeback bid.
In beating Dillashaw, Cruz completed one of the most stunning plotlines in the history of mixed martial arts. His head movement, footwork and ability to keep Dillashaw off-balance for the majority of the fight was an experience to behold.
A guy shouldn’t be able to move the way Cruz moved after three ACL tears. But “The Dominator” isn’t interested in talking about what he can’t do. He’s been too busy training to accomplish what he set out to do the moment he was forced to relinquish his title: Win it back.
Here are the Fight Night Boston Talking Points:
1. Vintage Cruz cements legacy
When Cruz left the game four years ago, the path back to the top was cluttered with questions.
Would he be able to recover from the injuries? Would he be able to move the same way? Had the game passed him by?
Cruz had to limp to the post-fight press conference after aggravating a foot injury he had entering the fight. But he said he’ll recover – he’s done it before.
For now he’s happy to be the champ and to have just defeated one of the best fighters in the world. And he answered all questions.
“It just felt good to have the belt and know that I belong here,” Cruz said. “You have your doubts when you go through what I’ve gone through. Four years (away) from fighting and you come back and face one of what’s said to be one of the pound-for-pound best.
“Theses guys, I shouldn’t technically maybe be able to go with them. But I’m winning.”
2. Eddie Alvarez stays in the hunt
Eddie Alvarez has been very adamant about what he wants since signing with the UFC: fights with the best guys in his division.
He added another impressive name to his resume by earning a split decision win over former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis. Now he wants a title shot if it’s available, and who can blame him?
At 155 pounds there aren’t any easy fights, and Alvarez is begging for the top guys in a murderer’s row collection of talent.
Alvarez said after the fight he wants to take more risks, but when facing a dangerous guy like Pettis, sometimes you have to stick to the game plan.
“I would have liked to let my hands go a little more,” Alvarez said. “Anthony is a dangerous guy and my idea was to wear him down and take all the pop off that fancy stuff and just scrape him off the cage and beat him up. He’s so talented it’s tough to take risks against a guy like that.”
3. Browne back on track
It wasn’t without controversy after a pair of eye pokes to the face of Matt Mitrione, but Travis Browne picked up a crucial win in Boston.
Browne is coming off a tumultuous 2015, which included a loss to Andrei Arlovski in his only outing. He needed a win to jump back into title contention and Sunday’s result now reaffirms his standing at No. 6 in the rankings.
Stipe Miocic all but guaranteed himself a title shot with his win against Arlovski back at UFC 195, UFC president Dana White said.
So that appears to leave Alistair Overeem out in the cold waiting for his potential shot. He’s riding a three-fight win streak, capped by a win over Junior Dos Santos in December.
Next up for Browne might be a rematch with Overeem, who will surely be looking to avenge his loss to “Hapa” back in 2013.
4. Canadian Cote continues to shine
Patrick Cote challenged Anderson Silva for the middleweight title more than seven years ago at UFC 90. It’s been 10 fights in the UFC since that night and Cote continues to perform inside the Octagon.
Now with three straight wins and a 5-1 record since moving to the welterweight division, Cote finds himself on the verge of the Top 15 in the rankings. His punching power and technique, combined with his experience and understanding of the game, make him a very interesting opponent for anyone at 170.
So what’s next for Cote now that he may be able to start calling some shots?
“I want a Top 15 opponent next; or there’s a guy coming back in August. His name is Nick Diaz. Let’s do it Nick,” Cote said.
5. Boston’s finest show out in front of home crowd
Rob Font and Charles Rosa had a little extra something to fight for in Boston: family and friends.
The two Boston products made every Beantown resident in attendance proud, picking up victories in impressive fashion.
Font improved to 2-0 in the UFC and did so by dominating his opponent, Joey Gomez, with his crisp and destructive boxing. He finished Gomez in the second round after landing an astounding 52 significant strikes in a classic display on footwork and precision.
Rosa picked up his second win in the UFC, and it just so happens to be the second time he’s won inside the Octagon in Boston. He fought a very up-to-the-challenge Kyle Bochniak, who took the fight on only four days notice as a late replacement. Both fighters exchanged at a ferocious pace throughout the bout, but it was the more experienced Rosa who was able to pick up the win.
Both Font and Rosa enjoyed fighting in Boston.
“I was a little worried about being able to come back to Boston with my friends and family, I really wanted this fight,” Rosa said. “He’s a super tough kid and that forced me to fight a little bit smarter, but being able to fight in Boston again was a dream come true.”
Matt Parrino is a digital producer and writer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MattParrinoUFC