The ghost of Dominick Cruz has haunted the bantamweight division ever since he was forced to relinquish his championship title because of injuries.
Sunday night in Boston, the current division king, TJ Dillashaw, will face Cruz in the flesh in one of the greatest championship clashes in the division’s history for the undisputed bantamweight title.
More on Fight Night Boston: Dillashaw vs. Cruz preview | Cruz finally gets chance to shine after injuries | Watch: Robin Black breaks down main event | Watch: Dillashaw-Cruz go at it again on SI NOW | Watch UFC Boston Embedded: TJ Dillashaw vs. Dominick Cruz, Anthony Pettis vs. Eddie Alvarez | Old-school Alvarez ready for Pettis test | Mitrione: 'It's do or die for me' | Felder promising fireworks | Marine Gomez looks forward to debut | Rankings Report ahead of Boston | Under-the-radar fights to watch | Fight Night Boston fight card | Get tickets for Fight Night Boston | Watch Joe Rogan previews: Dillashaw vs. Cruz, Pettis vs. Alvarez, Browne vs. Mitrione, Pearson vs. Trinaldo
Cruz never lost his title. He has loomed over each champion as Renan Barao and Dillashaw each won and defended that title.
Barao won the interim strap in July 2012 and defended it twice. He was then promoted to official champion and defended it once more before dropping the title to Dillashaw, who took out Barao in convincing fashion two times to secure his place at the top of the division.
It’s been over four years since Cruz was last able to defend the title that he was forced to relinquish, but his presence has remained in the division.
When looking at a title fight, the elements of the matchup and the feud are what build up the excitement level.
Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier was a matchup between the two best 205-pound fighters on the planet in their primes, and they didn’t like one another. That’s exactly what we have in Dillashaw vs. Cruz.
Dillashaw has moved on from Team Alpha Male, where he came up and helped prepare teammates to fight Cruz by emulating his style: fluid footwork combined with speed and quickness.
Today Dillashaw has morphed into his own animal, using that same footwork and his elite punching power to create what’s become an unbeatable champion.
But Cruz, while impressed with Dillashaw’s rise to the title, expects to take him to school and reclaim his belt.
Dillashaw has chosen the higher road throughout the lead up to the fight, while Cruz has been on the offensive. “The Dominator” took on Dillashaw in a chippy segment called “Counter Punch” on Ultimate Insider on FS1. Cruz said his movement and technique will nullify the champion’s power, allowing him to reclaim his title.
On fight night, Dillashaw said he’s going to let his fighting do the talking.
In the co-main event in Boston, former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis takes on Eddie Alvarez in a critcal bout at 155 pounds.
Pettis is coming off a disappointing loss to Rafael dos Anjos, which cost “Showtime” the lightweight championship. Alvarez is looking to collect his second win in the UFC as he continues to climb the ladder to a title shot.
Alvarez was best known as the best lightweight fighting outside of the UFC before he signed with Zuffa in 2014. He combines a wrestling base with high-level striking and is known for his heart and grit.
Pettis is one of the most dynamic strikers in the sport, and he’s regained his hunger after a humbling loss in March of last year.
Now both men fight for the coveted No. 1 contender spot that potentially hangs on the line Sunday night.
Also on the main card, heavyweights Travis Browne and Matt Mitrione throw down in what could be a slugfest. Both men hit hard and, like Pettis and Alvarez after them, are looking to hoist their names into the title conversation.
Mitrione has the most to gain here sitting at No. 14 in the rankings. A win over No. 6-ranked Browne would give him his fourth win in his last five in a division starving for new contenders.
Browne is looking to put a tough 2015 behind him and a win over Mitrione is exactly the way he’d like to begin 2016.
FOX Sports 1 Prelims
Veterans Patrick Cote and Ben Saunders meet in hopes of continuing their resurgence of late in the UFC.
Cote has put together a modest two-fight win streak and is coming of a Fight of the Night performance against Josh Burkman. Saunders has won three in a row since returning to the UFC.
The winner here has a good shot at breaking through the Top 15 of the welterweight rankings.
UFC FIGHT PASS Prelims
In the UFC FIGHT PASS featured main event, prospect Paul Felder faces UFC veteran Daron Cruickshank in what is an almost guaranteed war.
Felder is coming off two losses by decision after beginning his career 10-0. He ran into two old school strikers in Ross Pearson and Edson Barbosa who used their experience to take out Felder.
Cruickshank was once in Felder’s shoes. As a young rising prospect, the “Detroit Superstar” ran into a few stumbling blocks on the way to 12 fights inside the Octagon. Now Cruickshank looks to end a two-fight losing streak – both by submission – against Felder, who is known for his willingness to stand and bang making him the perfect opponent.
Matt Parrino is a digital producer and writer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MattParrinoUFC