The story of Dominick Cruz’s career is unlike that of many others in the sport of mixed martial arts.
For good reason, many consider the 35-year-old to be among the best bantamweights of all-time. A former WEC champion as well as a former two-time UFC champion, Dominick Cruz holds a 22-2 professional record that includes victories over notable names such as Joseph Benavidez, Urijah Faber, Demetrious Johnson, and T.J Dillashaw.
With a well-rounded fighting skillset backed by incredibly unique footwork and movement, Cruz has also grown to become one of the most talented and knowledgeable analysts in MMA, making him quite an intriguing character in the sport.
Along with his skills and his accomplishments, however, Cruz has also had his setbacks. In fact, it could be argued that he’s become more known for his setbacks given that he’s experienced one of the worst injury histories mixed martial arts has ever seen.
With three torn ACLs under his belt to go along with various other injuries, Cruz has spent a ton of time on the sidelines and has had multiple layoffs that spanned years. For example, he spent three years out of action before returning to finish Takeya Mizugaki in spectacular fashion at UFC 178 in 2014.
Following that victory, Cruz missed all of 2015 due to injuries before fighting three times in 2016, a span of fights that saw him both reclaim his 135-pound title and eventually lose it to Cody Garbrandt. And since that one-sided loss to Garbrandt in December of 2016, Cruz has not fought once, although that is set to change this Saturday night.
With the UFC set to make its anticipated return following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Cruz is also set to once again make a long-awaited return of his own, as he’s set to challenge current titleholder Henry Cejudo in the co-main event of UFC 249 from Jacksonville, Florida.
While Dominick Cruz may not make the most sense as the next title challenger in terms of the rankings, the storyline is certainly an intriguing one, and Cejudo, who has risen to stardom in “The Dominator’s” absence, will represent no easy task for the former champion.
A former Olympic gold medalist himself, Cejudo made a name for himself in the UFC competing at flyweight where he put together a three-fight winning streak between 2017-18 that culminated in a title-winning performance over all-time great Demetrious Johnson.
Following his win over Johnson, Cejudo defended his flyweight title against Dillashaw before scoring a comeback victory over Marlon Moraes last June to secure the vacant bantamweight title. And with two belts in his possession at the time, Cejudo made it clear that he was interested in defending his 135-pound strap against big-name veterans such as Faber, Jose Aldo, and Cruz.
By calling out these types of names, Cejudo hoped that he could land a fight with a decorated and well-known fighter in hopes of bolstering his legacy. With his fight against Cruz just days away, however, it’s become clear that this fight represents more of a legacy fight for Cruz. And it’s a massive legacy fight at that.
There’s no denying what Cruz has accomplished in the sport of mixed martial arts thus far. Those victories and championship belts can never be taken away from him. But there’s also no denying the fact that his career has been plagued with endless injuries and has turned into a bit of a “what if?” story.
To be blunt, mixed martial arts is a fast-moving game and Cruz has been far from active. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear that newer fans aren’t even all that familiar with him given that his fights have been so few and far between. And it’s for that reason that this weekend is so important to Cruz and his legacy, as it provides him with a chance to remind fans just how special a fighter he is.
With many stacking the deck against him due to the aforementioned reasons, a victory over Cejudo would be massive for Cruz. It could even be argued that a victory for Cruz would represent the greatest comeback and the greatest redemption story this sport has ever seen.
On the contrary, however, a loss, especially a loss in which Dominick Cruz doesn’t look like the fighter he once was, could result in his legacy being looked at more like that of a fighter who couldn’t stay healthy and who’s career was burned by injuries whether that’s fair or not.
Long Island-based sports writer covering MMA, Boxing, and the New York Jets.