Dominick Cruz minces zero words when it comes to the importance of his split decision victory over Casey Kenney at UFC 259. He not only avoided a third consecutive loss, but it was also his first win since June 2016. It was, as he described it, “extremely needed.”
“I needed to just win, and not just win, but win against a younger guy who had been working up in the division and looking good,” Cruz told UFC.com. “I wanted to fight someone who was good, not just somebody. To go out and perform the way I did — I call it a unanimous decision for sure — it was very needed, and it felt good to get in there.”
Arguably the greatest bantamweight in the sport’s history, Cruz opened a new chapter of his career against Kenney after falling short in his bid to regain the division’s title for a third time when he fought Henry Cejudo at UFC 249 following a three-and-a-half-year layoff.
And against Kenney, Cruz looked sharp. His signature footwork was there, but so was the grit when the high-paced fight progressed into the second and third rounds. He remarked afterwards that fighting for 15 minutes opposed to the 25 allotted to championship fights and main events was a slight adjustment. Once acclimated, his experience bore fruit against Kenney, preventing the fellow Arizonan from using Cruz as a catapult up the ladder.
Now, Cruz welcomes a challenge against the all-action Pedro Munhoz. It’s not a fight that puts Cruz right back into the title picture, but it is a bout with upward momentum attached. At 36 years old, he’s well-aware of Father Time, both in the physical and reflective sense.
Cruz’s various, injury-riddled layoffs have led people to speaking about him in the past tense, but the part-time color commentator still very much brings the past full-circle to the now. It’s hard to get away from legacy talk, though, especially when his is so well-established. Any major accomplishments from here on out is a cherry on top of a cherry on top of a well-adorned cake. When it comes to the matchup against Munhoz, Cruz harkens back to his pre-UFC days to set the expectation.
Dominick Cruz: Career Retrospective
Dominick Cruz: Career Retrospective
“I’m moving up the ladder, so I picture myself being the vintage me in (World Extreme Cagefighting),” Cruz said. “I’m going to have to pull that guy out against Pedro Munhoz.”
To scoff at this notion is to write off Cruz, which hasn’t aged well historically. Although the mileage rises, so does the number of lessons learned, and to bring up his days under the WEC banner is to call back not only to the start of his championship reign, but also what was his lone defeat for many years: a submission loss to Urijah Faber at WEC 26.
Talking to UFC.com for an episode of Career Retrospective, Cruz said that loss prompted him to “fix” his grappling, which helped him on a historic eight-year unbeaten run. The fight was also the first installment in his trilogy against Faber, which concluded nine years after the first edition with Cruz settling the score at 2-1 in his favor. It’s a chapter in his career Cruz looks at with reverence for what it gave him, despite the annoyances it brought in the moment.
“That human being that you don’t like becomes the person you have around you the most,” Cruz said. “What you resist persists has never sounded so true. I really resisted that guy, and so he continued to persistently be in my face until I got him out of there. I learned a lot. He elevated me to another level so, in the end, I’m grateful that I had that with him. To this day, I got a little bit of Faber in my style because my guillotine defense is top-notch, and I understand how to do this media-game thing.”
Now, though, Cruz no longer has to look at his final fight against Faber as his most-recent win. Instead, he can look at Munhoz as a chance to score multiple wins in a calendar year for the first time since 2016. Or, frankly, he can just look at the fight as that: a fight.
Regardless, Cruz is analytical and pragmatic when looking at Munhoz. He knows exactly what to expect, and he is adamant in what we should expect to see on December 11.
“He’s got a style that I built my whole style around beating, which is a linear fighter moving forward and back that’s a finisher with power, relies on his power a lot,” he said. “My style is built for guys like this, so you’re going to see the vintage me.”