By the time Dominick Cruz steps back into the UFC it’ll be close to three years since he last fought. After his last title defense against Demetrious Johnson in October 2011 Cruz has yet to step back into a cage to defend his bantamweight championship. He was delayed due to “The Ultimate Fighter,” of course, and was en route to scheduled rematch with Urijah Faber before a knee injury sidelined him for a significant portion of his career. With Cruz’s extended delay in returning an interim champion in the division was crowned, of course, and now with the champion’s return delayed until summer 2013 (at the absolute earliest, more likely late 2013/early 2014) most likely Renan Barao is now tasked with moving the division forward.
And he should be doing it without the interim tag attached to his championship reign.
It’s easy to root for Dominick Cruz when you hear him discuss MMA, among other things, because he’s well spoken and a genuinely nice human being. We’ve interviewed him at Inside Fights and he was a professional despite it being an armful of the same questions he’d been answering all morning. And it’s difficult to hear him discuss how he’s losing a massive chunk of his career because of injuries, as well, because he’s the type of fighter you want to root for. You want him to succeed because he’s such a good representative of the sport. But right now an injured Cruz, one who’ll have been unable to defend his title for almost three years by the time he steps back into the cage, is something the UFC cannot wither.
Cruz will eventually fight for the title again, that for sure we know, but right now if he can’t fight he can’t be champion.
There’s nothing wrong with Barao being a lengthy interim champion, especially if he gets a handful of defenses, if Cruz had a return date in hand and hadn’t been out for some time. But here’s the problem; he’s not sure of his return and as of this point Barao’s fight this weekend with Michael MacDonald is the division moving forward. And for it to truly move forward Cruz needs to be completely out of the picture and stripped of his title.
Renan Barao needs to be the only champion in the division … if he gets past MacDonald this weekend.
If the UFC is going to move forward with Barao defending a UFC title it need to be THE UFC title. It’s unfortunate that Cruz is hurt but at this point the UFC needs to move on to a certain degree from Cruz’s championship reign. Cruz is going to be a part of the UFC bantamweight title picture when he returns but it’ll have been three years or so since he’ll have fought by the time he returns. He’s going to need a handful of fights just to shake off ring rust and stepping back into the cage with Barao without having shaken of it off is career malpractice for him. Not every fighter can come out and look just as good as he did before a major knee injury like Georges St. Pierre.
Cruz is a fighter who relies on footwork and timing as significant portions of his game. It’s easier to recover a game based off of explosiveness than it is on finesse. Instead of dropping him back into deep waters after a significant layoff it’ll be easier for him, and the UFC, to allow him to work his way back into being an elite bantamweight later as opposed to sooner. Cruz has been a terrific champion and odds are he’ll be champion again someday. But right now his title hasn’t been defended in some time and a division has been held up. It’s time for Cruz to be stripped of his title and to work his way back into the title picture.