Bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz has an early 2014 return in mind, but if that doesn’t occur, the UFC will have to make a decision regarding the title.
That was the word from UFC President Dana White on a conference call to promote the upcoming UFC 165 event in Toronto. That card features a bantamweight title fight between interim champ Renan Barao and Eddie Wineland. White made it clear that he wants this to be the final interim title fight for the 135-pound belt.
Barao, for his part, considers himself to be the champion, having defeated Urijah Faber by decision at UFC 149 and then successfully defended the belt against Michael McDonald with a fourth-round submission victory at a February event in London, England.
It’s easy to forget that Cruz is the man who retains the title as fans haven’t seen him in action since October 1 of 2011, when he successfully defended it against Demetrious Johnson. So much has happened since that time, including “Mighty Mouse” moving down to flyweight and capturing the UFC’s 125-pound belt and successfully defending it.
Cruz has been on the shelf for nearly two years because of a torn ACL and subsequent surgeries. The initial injury occurred at a time when Cruz was preparing for a trilogy fight with Faber after they were opposing coaches on season 15 of the Ultimate Fighter. Given the dislike between the two competitors and their split results in two previous fights, there’s no doubt that their rubber match would’ve sparked plenty of interest.
Unfortunately, the long-term injury issues derailed those plans and Cruz has been on the sidelines since then.
Barao has patiently been waiting for a unification fight against Cruz to determine the true champ at 135 pounds. He’s won a remarkable 30 straight MMA bouts heading into the Wineland matchup on September 21. For Wineland, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime, and the former WEC champ plans to become the latest challenger to unseat a favored title holder.
While White indicated a decision about the belt would have to be made if Cruz’s return is delayed, he did have some encouraging news. He said when he and UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta had lunch with Cruz a few weeks back, “The Dominator” was very confident that he would be ready to go at the beginning of 2014.
After nearly two years away, you have to wonder whether Cruz will ever be able to regain his championship form. He’s relied heavily on his speed and footwork in compiling an impressive 19-1 record during his MMA career, with that lone loss coming against Faber.
Hopefully, Cruz is medically green-lighted and hits his targeted goal to return to the UFC so that the long-overdue bantamweight unification fight can finally happen. However, if there’s another delay for Cruz, it seems as though the UFC is ready to move in another direction.
Rick LaFitte is an MMA Writer for Rant Sports