With the possible exception of Cain Velasquez, no champion has missed more of the prime of his career with injuries than Cruz, and with all due respect to Velasquez, Cruz was the more dominant of the two. Until his loss to Cody Garbrandt at UFC 207, nobody had beaten a healthy Cruz in nearly a decade, and frankly, only T.J. Dillashaw had even come close.
It’s fitting that Garbrandt and Dillashaw are Cruz’s main foils. As Renan Barao, once the most feared man in the division, has struggled on the scale as well as in the cage, they have established themselves as the division’s new breed. Unfortunately, the budding rivalry between the two, sparked by personal history, genuine dislike for each other and fan-friendly fighting styles, lost much of its steam at UFC 227, as Dillashaw scored a second definitive stoppage over “No Love.” It will be quite some time before Dillashaw-Garbrandt 3 seems like a must-see fight, if ever.
Fortunately for the division and the fans, there is no shortage of interesting contenders for Dillashaw’s belt, and a familiar name is elbowing its way to the front of the line: Cruz, who is still only 32, the owner of a clean bill of health and the author of Dillashaw’s only loss in his last 10 fights. Whichever direction the UFC takes with the bantamweight title picture, fans are likely to get fireworks, as the prickly personalities and clashing styles that characterize the division’s top shelf continue to play out against each other.
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