The UFC’s Next Bantamweight Champion?
By Ross Markey
Like the UFC flyweight title – it’s bantamweight equivalent has gone through a tumultuous time as of late. In the last four years, the title hand changed hands, or waist rather – four separate times. Dominick Cruz returned triumphantly to dislodge T.J. Dillashaw. Cody Garbrandt completed his rise with a shutout against Cruz. Dillashaw then twice knocked out Garbrandt to reclaim and retain the crown. Now, we’ve got Henry Cejudo sitting atop the 135-pound pile.
The division as a whole is arguably one of the most competitive in the promotion. Marlon Moraes, Petr Yan, Aljamain Sterling, Cory Sandhagen, José Aldo, and Marlon Vera could all see themselves strapped with gold in the not too distant future.
On May 9th. we get the first title defence of Cejudo’s reign, as he welcomes back the aforementioned Cruz in a short-notice pairing.
Cruz who’s been out of action in an injury-riddled period since his defeat to Garbrandt has replaced the previously noted former featherweight king, Aldo – who’s stranded in his native Brazil due to VISA issues, amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
There’s been plenty of uproar in regards to the promotion’s decision to grant Cruz an immediate title rematch, despite four years on the sidelines – even more so than Aldo’s initial scheduling to meet with Cejudo despite two consecutive losses.
Nevertheless, I’m hedging my bets on a new titleholder on May 9th. Cejudo is most certainly no walkover, but neither is Cruz. Many have pointed at a one-sided victory for ‘The Messenger’ next Saturday, however, I don’t see great reasoning that suggests that’s going to happen.
Dominick Cruz may be the biggest proponent that you’re likely to find out there, against the narrative of ‘ring-rust’. In Cruz’s case, he’s got sufficient evidence to back that claim up, tenfold. Between 2011 and 2014, the Californian compered just once.
Plagued by ACL injuries, Cruz finally returned against then perennial contender, Takeya Mizugaki. In spectacular fashion, the 35-year-old stopped Mizugaki in just over a minute with strikes.
The now number-one contender was then lining up to clash with then Team Alpha MMA trainee, Dillashaw for the undisputed title – until he tore his ACL. Finally, in 2016, Dillashaw vs. Cruz was set. In a memorable close back-and-forth, Cruz narrowly, by the slimmest of margins, took the championship via a split decision.
Cruz then made the first successful defence of his second title reign against longtime rival, Urijah Faber. The Alliance MMA trainee would lose the title to Garbrandt in December – but 2016 marked the first occasion in six years that Cruz made the walk three times.
Since his loss to Garbrandt, Cruz has been plagued by plantar fasciitis, suffered a broken arm, and a shoulder injury. Subsequently, he was forced to withdraw from scheduled pairings with both Jimmie Rivera and John Lineker.
What Cruz offers Cejudo compared to Aldo – is arguably the most difficult movement and locomotion to deal with in mixed-martial-arts. Dips, sways, feints, and drop-shifts can all be found in Cruz’s arsenal, in great abundance. Cruz comes from a wrestling background with the renowned, Neil Melanson – although, he may come in on the opposite side of the potential grappling equation that he’d like against Cejudo. His fellow California has developed into a competent karate or even Muay Thai specialist – evident in his stoppages of Wilson Reis, Dillashaw, and Marlon Moraes.
Cruz’s striking, however, isn’t something that’s going to cause the majority of bantamweight concerns in regards to one-shot stopping ability. Instead, volume in the name of the game for Cruz, and should be paramount focus against the Olympic gold medalist.