Former UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz is getting closer to an Octagon return from a catastrophic run of injuries, and has an opponent in mind. According to the latest edition of UFC Tonight, “The Dominator” is targeting a late-August or September matchup against red-hot contender Takeya Mizugaki.
The Japanese fighter is currently on the mend after undergoing major ear surgery because of a severe infection. Cruz, who has had some of the worst injury luck of any champion in recent memory, was finally forced to surrender his title after being forced out of a unification bout with Renan Barao at UFC 169.
The groin tear followed on the heels of two ACL surgeries that have kept Cruz on the shelf for nearly three years. His last Octagon appearance was a unanimous decision victory over Demetrious Johnson in their bantamweight title clash in 2011.
It’ll be very interesting to see if Cruz can ever regain his championship form. He’s built an impressive 19-1 career record thanks to his technical striking, excellent lateral movement and athleticism. The lone loss came by submission in a WEC featherweight title fight in 2007 against Urijah Faber. Cruz would later get his revenge on “The California Kid” at UFC 132 with a unanimous decision victory to defend his 135-pound strap.
The former champion has other notable career victories against Scott Jorgensen, Joseph Benavidez and Ian McCall. Cruz’s inactivity has seen him plummet to no. 11 in the latest rankings, but he’s only a win or two away from earning a title opportunity. The landscape in the division has changed dramatically after T.J. Dillashaw ended Barao’s dominant reign at UFC 173 to become the new 135-pound kingpin.
Mizugaki currently occupies the no. 6 spot in the division thanks to a current five-fight win streak. His latest performance was a unanimous decision triumph against the dangerous Francisco Rivera at UFC 173. Mizugaki has been involved in numerous fan-friendly clashes during his WEC and UFC tenures, and is known for his striking skills and tremendous chin. He’s never been shy when it comes to a stand-up firefight.
His last loss came against Chris Cariaso in 2012, and Mizugaki has registered wins over Jeff Hougland, Bryan Caraway, Erik Perez and Nam Phan since that time. He’s no stranger to going the distance, with 21 of his 29 career fights having gone to the judges’ scorecards. Another victory over someone with Cruz’s reputation would have the Japanese veteran on the cusp of a bantamweight title shot.
Here’s hoping that this potential matchup becomes a reality. It would be an excellent test for Cruz in his long overdue return to the Octagon, and would also represent the type of major opportunity that Mizugaki is richly deserving of.
Rick LaFitte is an MMA Writer for Rant Sports