It has been almost two years since bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz stepped inside the Octagon to defend his title. The champ suffered an ACL injury in 2012 and has since been dealing with surgeries and rehabilitation to ensure that he returns to fighting shape.
Since Cruz’s injury, the UFC has crowned an interim champion, one who has defended his title successfully. Brazilian Renan Barao has been displayed dominant performances over the last two years, with wins over Brad Pickett, Scott Jorgensen, Urijah Faber and Michael McDonald. The UFC has been interested in a title unification bout for the majority of 2013 but Cruz’s recovery process was slowed down significantly after a cadaver ligament used to repair the knee was rejected. This forced the champ out for several more months than originally anticipated.
Since then, the UFC has set up an interim title fight between Renan Barao and former WEC bantamweight champ Eddie Wineland to keep the division flowing while they awaited Cruz’s return. According to UFC President Dana White, it appears we may have the long-time bantamweight champ back in the octagon in early 2014.
“Cruz came in here a few weeks ago and had lunch with me and Lorenzo [Fertitta].” Dana stated on the UFC 165 media conference call, “He was very confident that he would be ready to go at the beginning of the year.”
While White seemed excited about the prospect of his champion returning healthy, he did admit that if the champ was unable to return to action by the beginning of 2014, then the organization would be forced to “make a decision” regarding his competitive future – whether he should retire or at the very least, forfeit the belt.
“I hope this is the last time it’ll be an interim title fight. We’re expecting [Cruz's] return at the beginning of the year, and if he can’t return at the beginning of the year, then we’re going to have to make a decision.”
With a 19-1 professional record, Dominick Cruz was considered the consensus no.1 bantamweight fighter in the world as well as one of the top 10 pound-for-pound fighters in the world. His only defeat came against Urijah Faber in a featherweight contest back in 2007 and he has since avenged that loss in the UFC. If the long-reigning WEC and UFC bantamweight champ can complete his recovery in time, then the title unification bout with Barao should be a fascinating match-up.