It has been a long time since we have seen UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz in the octagon. Cruz was last seen two years ago, in October of 2011 when he defeated Demetrious Johnson to retain his belt at 135 lbs. The UFC resisted stripping him of the belt, and Renan Barao was crowned interim champion. Now the UFC has announced that Cruz will meet Barao as one of the co-main events of UFC 169, scheduled for Super Bowl weekend.
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While Cruz has been out having multiple surgeries on his knees, Barao has quickly established himself as the class of the weight division. Barao has an eye popping 31-1 record, and he defeated Urijah Faber to earn the interim belt. Since then, he has taken out Michael McDonald and Eddie Wineland in title defenses that have seen him separate himself from the rest of the weight class.
Because of Barao’s rise since Cruz’ injury, it is going to be nearly impossible to favor Cruz in this fight when the match hits the sportbooks.
Before Cruz injury, he was already well established as a belt holder, with the win over Johnson and a win over Faber. But how much of that talented fighter will we see this time?
It is unclear why the UFC did not strip cruise of his belt, other than some bizarre snowballing effect on loyalty going both ways, but these are not optimum conditions for a return to action. Cruz returns to the toughest possible fight, and it remains to be seen. Can he shoot a double or a single? Can he check a kick? Can he throw a Thai kick? Is he going to think about the injury while he is fighting?
These questions would have been better for Cruz to return and answer in a three round match. Likely Cruz’ best immediate payday will be a title shot, and obviously after two years with his income affected, Cruz needs to make as much money as possible. But let’s say he loses, and then loses a tough followup or (god forbid) he gets injured again. Cruz’s career may be on the line here.