San Diego’s own Dominick Cruz puts his bantamweight championship on the line this Saturday against longtime rival Urijah Faber at The Forum in Inglewood. Co-headlining UFC 199 Bisping vs Rockhold, the Cruz vs Faber trilogy couldn’t come fast enough for both fighters as they finally hope to put an end to their much-publicized rivalry.
For Cruz, showing the world once and for all who is the better fighter has been a long time coming — this fight was supposed to happen in 2012, but he (Cruz) tore his ACL and ended up being sidelined almost three years due to injuries.
During his hiatus, Cruz was stripped of the belt and the bantamweight title has changed hands three times. In 2012 at UFC 149, Renan Barao defeated Faber for the vacant interim title, and two years later at UFC 173 Faber protégé T.J. Dillasaw won the belt from Barao, which brought Faber’s Team Alpha Male its first UFC title. And then in January the belt returned full circle when Cruz beat Dillasaw in an epic battle at UFC Fight Night 81.
The much-publicized animosity between the two fighters began in 2007, when then-WEC featherweight champ Faber beat Cruz via first-round submission at WEC 26. Four years later in his first defense of the new UFC bantamweight title Cruz defeated Faber by unanimous decision in the rematch at UFC 132.
Although he is recognized as one of the top MMA fighters of the past decade, there has to be a ton of pressure lying on the shoulders of Faber, who at 38-years-old could be facing his final shot at a UFC title. Not so much for the mentally-tough Cruz, who appears to be at the top of his game despite being 31.
Cruz (21-1 MMA, 4-0 UFC) is ranked No. 1 in The USA Today Sports MMAjunkie and No. 4 pound-for-pound in the UFC bantamweight rankings; Faber (33-8 MMA, 9-4 UFC) is ranked No. 5 and No. 3 in the UFC bantamweight division
Prediction: History shows that all great things come to an end and unfortunately for Faber, I believe Cruz will retain his UFC title. Like Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer at the Battle at Little Big Horn or Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo, Faber will put up a brave fight but will be defeated in the end. Like he did in January against Dillasaw, the unorthodox mixture of style and speed from “The Dominator” will earn him another unanimous decision over “The California Kid.”
Ringside: Featherweight Jeremy Stephens spoiled former UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao’s return to the octagon in the co-main event last Sunday at UFC Fight Night 88. A teammate of Cruz at Alliance MMA, Stephens won by unanimous decision as all three judges scored the fight 29-28, bringing his record to 25-12 MMA (12-11 UFC). In his first fight after moving up 10 pounds from the bantamweight division, Barao, 33-4 MMA (9-2 UFC), won the first round by landing powerful punches and kicks and continuously slipping counter punches from Stephens.
However, after being stunned by a Stephens’ uppercut in round two, Barao never fully recovered despite showing a champion’s heart by landing some shots of his own in the final two rounds. When asked in the post-fight interview following the fight if he was surprised by the outcome, Stephens replied: “Not surprised at all. Barao’s a true champion. Dana White promised me something tonight, so I came here to take it, and that’s exactly what I did…Hats off to him, he’s a great champion, he will be back. I just don’t think he should be here at 145 pounds messing with me.”