Who is Dominick Cruz?
Over the last 1,500 days, MMA fans have only had a mere glimpse – 61 seconds worth – of the first UFC and final WEC bantamweight champion do what he does best.
After a series of injuries derailed his stellar title run and 11-fight win streak, the man known as “The Dominator” stormed the Octagon like a hurricane, scoring a blistering first-round KO of Japanese contender Takeya Mizugaki at UFC 178 in September of 2014.
Then came another tragic setback, his third ACL surgery. Once again, Cruz was stolen away from fight fans, stalling a championship clash with current UFC bantamweight belt holder TJ Dillashaw.
But finally, Cruz is healthy and ready to tangle for the title this Sunday in Boston.
Yet the question still remains, after all the time, surgeries, rehab, recovery, training and a single knockout performance in four-plus years: Who is Cruz?
“Nobody knows who I am,” Cruz said. “(Dillashaw’s) trying to say, ‘You’ve never talked this much before.’ Dude? It’s been four years! If I came back after four years and was the same person, what have I been doing with my life? Realistically, people earn a degree in four years. I just have a different enlightenment in this process because I had it all taken from me. I have a different mindset going into it and really I have nothing to lose. I don’t. I don’t have the title right now. He’s supposed to be the baddest man on the planet, not me. He’s the man to beat. I know what that feels like. I know what it feels like when everybody thinks you’re the best. Also, I know what it feels like when no one feels you’re good enough to win. I know all ends of the spectrum. I know what it feels like to lose the belt and I know what it feels like to have the belt. That allows me to have a different peace right now and enjoy this process.”
The 30-year old Californian with an incomparable 20-1 pro record, which includes wins overs the likes of Urijah Faber, Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez, has lost a lot outside the Octagon and, rightfully so, it has changed him. Between enduring multiple serious injuries and seeing new champions crowned despite never being defeated himself, Cruz has been forced to mature and become mentally stronger on a grand scale outside of the Octagon. The result is a calm, but highly-focused fighter who is truly appreciative that he gets the opportunity to be “The Dominator” again.
“I’m out there doing what I love because I enjoy doing it,” he said. “I chose to go for the title in this fight. I could have had another three-round fight if I wanted to and set myself up and get a little stronger or whatever people would say. I’m doing this because I enjoying doing this and I get to do this at the very highest level against the guy who the world says is the best guy in the world. I already know I’m the best in the world, so why not challenge myself here. I’m going into this as a free man with nothing to lose.”
Consider the quick drubbing of Mizugaki as a minute-long microcosm of how Cruz is feeling heading into his UFC bantamweight title fight with Dillashaw, who is making the third defense of the belt he won from Renan Barao.
Sixteen months ago, the longtime star of Alliance MMA jogged out to the Octagon to take on the steel-chinned Mizugaki who was on a five-fight win streak and ranked fifth in the division. A few punches slipped here, a double leg takedown there, a series of short punches against the fence and Cruz was back. With zero screaming nor muscle-flexing, he enjoyed his first post-victory moment inside the Octagon in three years with an ear-to-ear smile as he exhaled and thanked the fans.
“When I fought Mizugaki, I could go out there and just live free,” Cruz said. “Enjoy my sport. Enjoy being there. Enjoy being under the lights. Enjoy doing what I like to do - compete and fight people. It created a great win for me in that mindset. So, TJ’s got a lot to lose right now. I don’t. I already lost everything. This is just going to be another fun thing for me. I get to go out there and fight for another title, which I’ve already done. I’ve got two titles at home. I’ve already accomplished the pinnacle of this sport several times.”
On January 17, he returns. Simply put, Cruz making it this far proves his championship mettle even before the first punches are thrown, with or without a belt around his waist. That being said, on Sunday night, Cruz is ready to show to the world who he is and why he is called The Dominator.
“It’s the experience, the learning, the evolution; it’s the crying, the blood, the pain that grows you into a better man when you win a world title,” he said. “I’ve gained that. I’m already a world champion. I’m already a world champion before this fight. When I go in there, I’m going in there to have fun and put on a great show for the fans and do my job.”