Sunday night at the UFC’s Fight Night 81 in Boston, former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz regained his belt from Team Alpha Male alum T.J. Dillashaw in a technical, suspenseful battle in the octagon. Cruz’s long-awaited return to the cage did not disappoint, resulting in a split decision that stunned both fighters and has created controversy since. But while the excitement has not worn off from the fight, already some are looking forward to the next fight and the next test for Cruz’s health.
For the last few months, the main drama surrounding the bantamweight title has been T.J. Dillashaw’s exit from Team Alpha Male, the Urijah Faber led group out of California. This was Dillashaw’s first fight since leaving his long-standing team and he did so under tense circumstances. “The Notorious” Conor McGregor even took a shot at the champ during taping for “The Ultimate Fighter,” calling Dillashaw a “snake in the grass.” But Dominick Cruz soon found a way to draw the attention back to his comeback.
FOX Sports called Cruz’s return to the octagon the “greatest comeback in UFC history,” and they might be right about that. First there was the ACL tear in 2012, the issues with recovery, a groin tear in 2014 that led to Cruz being stripped of the title, and then an ACL tear on the other leg leading to a total of four years out of the UFC octagon. By running his mouth a little and playing up the rivalry with Dillashaw, Cruz was able to create a fairy tale story that captivated the imagination as much as it did the ratings.
The test for Dominick Cruz on Sunday night was whether he could back up his claims to be the best bantamweight and unseat a truly dominant champion. And that is where the controversy sets in after the fact, was the split decision enough to cement Dominick Cruz as the best UFC bantamweight of all time? That was the argument he made before the fight, but some disagree that his victory is enough to prove it.
The split decision has been roundly criticized by the media and by Dillashaw. The Denver Post reports that the former champ, who was quite obviously expecting the call in his favor at decision time, believes he deserved the W, not Cruz. “I felt like I was the aggressor and landed the bigger shots. I’m not a fan of his antics,” he added, but congratulations to him.”
Now the question is whether Dominick Cruz can defend his belt, especially with the nagging threat of injury. After the fight, Cruz told the media that his left foot was “torn in half” and, according to Bloody Elbow, would need an MRI scan. Top bantamweight contender Urijah Faber was quick to pick up on the possibility of injury as he called out his old nemesis, challenging him to a trilogy fight. The pair have fought twice in their careers, trading victories. Now Faber is calling for the tie breaker, taunting the new champion by saying, “You’re not made for battle.” Cruz may not have a lot of time to bask in his win if Faber has his way.
By Charlie Carlisle