Over the last couple of years, Dominick Cruz has developed into the most deft and cerebral battle rapper on the UFC roster. Put him in a tandem interview with a challenger that has spoken ill of him and the 31-year-old standout is quick to attack.
Like any truly great MC, Cruz doesn’t come with written verses – pre-fab lines he’s ready to deliver, worked out with a pen and a pad with a cadence in mind – opting instead to take in what his adversaries say and returning fire, riding the instrumental in his head and dropping gems that leaves foes without a reply.
His prowess first came to light at the start of the year in the build up to his bantamweight title fight with TJ Dillashaw and has continued through his trilogy bout with long-time rival Urijah Faber and into his clash with Cody Garbrandt this weekend at UFC 207. All three have tried to go bar-for-bar with Cruz, but the man that currently sits on the bantamweight throne has repeatedly proven himself superior on the mic as well.
And yet the man who has enjoyed two separate reigns atop the 135-pound division despite never losing in the Octagon is never the one to fire the opening salvo in these constant verbal battles that carry him into the cage. He is, however, very keen on finishing them, so consider yourself warned.
“The whole fight starts the second the person starts talking trash to me,” said Cruz, who looks to defend the title he reclaimed from Dillashaw in January this weekend in Las Vegas. “If you look at some of my past fights, I’ve had fights where I didn’t say one foul word about the person. Look at one of the pound-for-pound bests – not the pound-for-pound best, but one of them – Demetrious Johnson: I beat him for five rounds straight and I had no foul words about that guy. He was very kind to me, he was nice to me – he’s nice to everybody – so because he was cool to me, I could be cool to him back; I share the respect with you.
“But these gentlemen have nothing but negative opinions that have no validity behind them that they come at me with, so when you come at me like that, I’m going to finish you off with the words and you better understand that. You have a choice before you come at me: if you want to be cool and respectful or if you want to be a prick, and if you’re a prick, I can play that game very well.”
You know what else Cruz can do pretty well? Fight.
That isn’t new information for anyone that watched him climb to the top of the bantamweight division during his time in the WEC or kick off his stint as the inaugural UFC bantamweight champ with wins over Faber and “Mighty Mouse,” but there was a stretch of time where getting to see the Alliance MMA product in the Octagon was a rarity.
A host of injuries limited Cruz to just a single appearance between his October 2011 shutout of Johnson and his championship victory over Dillashaw in January of this year and for a moment, it seemed as if that 61-second drubbing of Takeya Mizugaki would stand as a final tantalizing look at a sublime talent that couldn’t get healthy enough to make a return to competition.
“Since my first fight back earlier this year, my body has really settled into itself,” said Cruz, whose out-of-rhythm movements in the cage have not been hampered by the myriad lower body injuries he’s endured over the last five years. “I put on a lot of muscle and a lot of strength, a lot of durability through just being able to put these training camps together.
“I know it sounds crazy, but you’ve got to take the damage and rebuild in order to build the calluses and to toughen you body to be yourself again when you’re competing at this level. That first fight at the beginning of this year, I just did not have that and now, I feel much more durable, much stronger and much more into my own body.”
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A year ago, Cruz was preparing to return to action in hopes of reclaiming the title he never lost in competition. He had no idea how his body would respond or if it would hold up, let alone whether or not he would be able to author a fairytale ending to his saga when he stepped into the cage in Boston.
Eleven months and a handful of days later, with the UFC bantamweight title wrapped around his waist, he’s hours away from stepping into the cage for the third time this year, out to end Garbrandt’s unbeaten streak and close out a tremendously successful year in style.
“I had no assumptions going into this year – I just hoped for the best and stayed in the moment, day-by-day – and it has paid off,” Cruz said of his comeback campaign. “God has had my back, no question.
“(2016) is going to be a huge success for me. I will have blown my own mind I think and that’s why we all do this because if you can’t impress yourself, you’re in it for the wrong reasons. By impressing yourself, you’re going to simultaneously impress everyone else, so I’m trying to kill two birds with one stone.”