Rivalries: Dominick Cruz

By: Brian Knapp
Mar 3, 2021

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Dominick Cruz wants one more run at the top.

The former Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight titleholder will attempt to rebound from back-to-back losses for the first time when he confronts Casey Kenney in the featured UFC 259 prelim this Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Injuries have curtailed the latter third of Cruz’s hall of fame-caliber career, but he remains a pivotal figure in the 135-pound weight class. He last competed at UFC 249 on May 9, when he succumbed to a second-round knee strike and follow-up punches from Henry Cejudo in a failed bid to reclaim the bantamweight throne.

As Cruz prepares for his critical encounter with Kenney, a look at a few of the rivalries that helped shape his rise to prominence:

Urijah Faber

Cruz waited for more than four years for another crack at Faber, and he made sure he did not let the opportunity pass him by. “The Dominator” bobbed, weaved, punched, kicked and wrestled his way to a unanimous decision over Faber, as he defended his bantamweight crown in the UFC 132 headliner on July 2, 2011 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Scores were 50-45, 49-46 and 48-47 for Cruz, who avenged the only defeat of his career—a guillotine choke submission under the World Extreme Cagefighting banner in 2007—and cemented his place atop the 135-pound division. Cruz utilized all his tools against “The California Kid,” lateral movement chief among them. He pressed forward relentlessly and landed brilliant multi-strike, multi-level combinations throughout the memorable 25-minute encounter, tagging Faber with blows to the head, body and legs. More than one round was too close to call, as the evenly matched bantamweights went toe-to-toe with one another for five rounds. Faber found a home for his powerful straight right hand on several occasions and knocked Cruz off-balance with it in the fourth round, sending the champion into scramble mode. He recovered soon after, and the two resumed their duel in the center of the Octagon. The fifth round was arguably Cruz’s best. He backed up Faber with a textbook flying knee and scored with multiple takedowns. Faber was quick to return to his feet each time, but Cruz often beat him to the punch and left him swinging at air.

The two archrivals went on to complete their trilogy at UFC 199 some five years later, as Cruz once again laid claim to a five-round unanimous verdict and exited the cage with a 2-1 advantage in their head-to-head series.

Joseph Benavidez

Blood streaming from his face, Cruz retained his World Extreme Cagefighting bantamweight crown by the narrowest of margins, as he danced and dodged, scored timely takedowns and eked out a split decision over Benavidez in the WEC 50 main event on Aug. 18, 2010 at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. Two of the three judges—Lester Griffin and Adalaide Byrd—scored it 48-47 and 49-46 for Cruz, while Nelson Hamilton saw it 48-47 for Benavidez. In a tactical bout that was not short on action, the world-ranked challenger provided Cruz with a stern test. The first three rounds were almost too close to call, highlighted by a beautiful flying knee from Cruz and some crisp counterpunching from Benavidez. Dealing with a cut near his hairline, the Team Alpha Male rep appeared to break Cruz’s nose and opened a nasty lateral gash across its bridge with a knee from the clinch in the fourth round. Blood spilled from the wound, but Cruz pressed the action and scored the fourth of his five takedowns in the match. Though his frenetic pace had slowed, Cruz closed strong in Round 5. He delivered another takedown in the final 15 seconds, grinded away with elbows from the top and rose from the battle, both arms raised and a smile on his battered face, as the horn sounded. It was Cruz’s second win over the San Antonio native in little more than a year. He had defeated Benavidez by three-round unanimous decision at WEC 42 in 2009.

T.J. Dillashaw

The oft-injured Cruz reclaimed the bantamweight title he never lost with a split decision over Dillashaw in the UFC Fight Night 81 headliner on Jan. 17, 2016 at the TD Garden in Boston. Scores were 48-47 and 49-46 for Cruz, 49-46 for Dillashaw. Together, they produced a 25-minute display of marvelous technique and fortitude. Cruz shook off the rust from another extended injury-induced layoff—he had fought just once in the previous 1,569 days—and got down to business with surgical counterpunches and elusive movement. Dillashaw was left to throw single shots and whiffed often during many of the early exchanges, as the Alliance MMA cornerstone bobbed, weaved and circled out of danger. Cruz supplemented his work on the feet with takedowns in the second, third and fourth rounds, as he managed to ground a fighter who had never before been taken down in UFC competition. Despite the difficulties Cruz presented for him, Dillashaw kept applying the pressure. He shifted the momentum in his favor in the fourth round, where he connected with a crippling leg kick, delivered a takedown of his own and punished Cruz in the clinch. Dillashaw picked up where he left off in the fifth, as he followed a clean right hand upstairs with a partially blocked head kick. With Cruz compromised by an apparent foot injury, Dillashaw stayed busy down the stretch but failed to do enough to carry the scorecards. Advertisement
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