The rivalry between Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber has always been a fairly interesting one. When Cruz was establishing himself as a fighter Urijah Faber ruled the roost of the featherweight division. It was their first fight that Cruz credited with his drop into the bantamweight division in the first place. Faber would wind up defending his crown three more times before two title losses convinced him to come down to Cruz’s weight class. It was more natural for Faber’s body and an established rival awaited him if he could have the kind of success at bantamweight as he did at featherweight. With the Championship belt on the line, Faber and Cruz put on one of the best fights of 2011 and ever since, Cruz, as the victor, has had a bit of an upper hand on Faber. He’s avenged his only loss and vanquished another challenger to his throne as King of the Bantamweight division.
And on the first episode of the “The Ultimate Fighter Live” after the fight-in round, the King made his first grand taunt to the man trying to steal his crown.
It wasn’t profane or insulting like many past fighters in coaching spots have done. He didn’t lecture Faber like Michael Bisping did to Jason Miller. He didn’t get in Urijah’s face and taunt him like Rampage Jackson did to Rashad Evans. All Dominick Cruz did was something that’s become his trademark; he used his soft-spoken and unassuming demeanor to find the perfect way to get under Urijah Faber’s skin.
Urijah’s team responded exactly how Cruz would’ve preferred them to, as well.
The one thing that Cruz doesn’t get enough credit for is that while he doesn’t talk trash like some fighters do. He’s never going to be confused with someone like a Chael Sonnen or Faber, two of the better trash talkers in the sport. Cruz is more subtle in that regard; he’s a bit boring to listen to on occasion, but if you listen deeply to the guy you can hear some good lines every now and again. Friday, Cruz picked the perfect spot to ruffle Faber’s feathers and rattle his cage while effectively playing into what for this season’s fighters is an unfamiliar team vs. team dynamic.
Early on in nearly every season no one is comfortable enough with the others to incite the pull-apart, shoving matches that have made some seasons infamous. The dynamic of each team hasn’t really developed itself yet. It took several weeks for Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock to have a pull-apart with both their teams involved and they were perhaps the worst of the coaches involved when it came to taunting one another. So far, neither team is going to do this with Faber or Cruz because they’ve only had one week to work with guys they still view as UFC superstars. They aren’t coaches to the degree that their regular coaches are; they’re stand-ins until they really bond.
By bringing out his best fighter and practically screaming “come on, who wants some” to Faber, Cruz is playing upon an ancient rule of group dynamics. Faber’s team might all be wearing the same jersey, but in one week you don’t bond as deeply as necessary for someone to step up to this challenge.
The Ultimate Fighter Live will only have one champion and Cruz exploited this. So far only one fight has happened; there isn’t a group of fighters aching for another fight. There aren’t four fighters who’ve been eliminated but want another chance back into the game if someone who hasn’t fought won’t step up for some reason. The grind of being in the house and training hard hasn’t set in yet. There’s no chance someone will utter “Do you want to be a [expletive] fighter?” as Cruz and his first pick stand in front, like an ancient warrior taunting the front lines of his enemy.
No one knew how to react. No one wants to face someone as tough as Lawrence early on, especially in that kind of matter. It was a brilliant stratagem as both a fighter and as a coach for Dominick Cruz. Next week, Cristiano Marcello will fight him, but the advantage going in favors Lawrence. Marcello didn’t step up when asked; he was picked by his coach’s rival in seemingly embarrassing fashion. Justin Lawrence will come into the fight with Dominick Cruz telling him every day that no one on Faber’s team wants to fight him because he’s the best fighter in the house.
It’s good coaching, of course, but also a sign that this season might give us the best coaching rivalry in the series history. Urijah Faber can’t just pull pranks. The gauntlet has been thrown down and now it’s time for “The California Kid” to respond.