He has become one of MMA’s most tragic figures.
Various injuries, a pair of ACL tears in his left knee chief among them, have for the better part of three years kept Dominick Cruz on the sidelines, costing him the Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight title and robbing the sport of one of its premier technicians. Prior to his string of misfortune, “The Dominator” had established himself as the world’s top bantamweight and one of MMA’s pound-for-pound best, with wins over Ian McCall, Joseph Benavidez (twice), Brian Bowles, Urijah Faber and reigning UFC flyweight king Demetrious Johnson.
However, his career stalled in late 2011 after the aforementioned ACL injuries and a torn groin resulted in his decision to vacate the 135-pound title. He became something a forgotten man, as fighters like Renan Barao and T.J. Dillashaw rose to the top of the division in his absence.
Cruz -- Sherdog.com’s 2014 “Comeback Fighter of the Year” -- made a triumphant return from a two-year, 11-month and 26-day layoff at UFC 178 on Sept. 27, as he stopped Takeya Mizugaki on punches a little more than a minute into their undercard clash at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The end came 61 seconds into round one, with a dazed Mizugaki face down at the base of the cage.
“I just knew his weapons, his set of tools,” Cruz said. “I studied him. I understand the sport; I understand the things he brings to the table. He’s basically a shoot boxer that’s extremely durable and extremely tough. I knew I had a lot more weapons than him, and I could use them.”
And use them he did. Cruz darted in and out, popped the Japanese standout with a right hand and followed with an immediate takedown. Mizugaki attempted to scramble to his feet but left his head exposed in the process. Cruz exploded with ground-and-pound, a volley of vicious right hands bringing it to a close. With that, the 29-year-old Cruz, who had not competed since Oct. 1, 2011, recorded his 11th consecutive victory.
“The win for me tonight was really just about my own set of goals,” Cruz said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know how I was going to feel after three years. I didn’t know what the lights were going to do. I didn’t know what being there was going to do. I just had to go in there and do it, and it was big for me. I’ve done this over 20 times; I was ready for it. I believe I’m the best in the world, so I just went out there and did my job. I’m far from the old Dominick. I’m ready to be back and have that belt.”
Afterward, UFC President Dana White named Cruz the No. 1 contender for the UFC bantamweight championship -- a title he never lost and a title currently held by Team Alpha Male’s Dillashaw.
“Nobody does that to Mizugaki, nobody,” White said. “He didn’t lose his belt fighting. He is the unluckiest man on earth, so yeah, he’s the guy.”
Unfortunately, Cruz’s year did not end on that high note. On Dec. 22, the Alliance MMA ace announced via Facebook that he had suffered yet another ACL tear while training, this time to his right knee. Cruz figures to miss a substantial chunk of 2015 while recovering from reconstructive surgery.
“It is with great sadness to report I have experienced another ACL injury,” he wrote. “This time it’s in the right knee, opposite side of my first and second ACL injuries. Leading up to my last fight in September and after, I have practiced a very careful and methodical training and diet [regimen] to keep my body healthy. Unfortunately, this is beyond my understanding and control.
“I don’t have a timetable for my return, but trust and know I will pour my heart and soul into returning to the Octagon,” Cruz added. “I want to thank the UFC, my fans and my sponsors ahead of time for your support and prayers. I appreciate you more than you could understand.”
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