Assuming Dominick Cruz’s latest injury doesn’t keep him out indefinitely, what should be the next UFC Bantamweight Championship fight? Do you believe he should have won the fight with T.J. Dillashaw? Should the rematch be next? Is the Urijah Faber fight the right option? What should be done, and what route do you think the UFC will take?
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
What’s the over/under on the amount of time Dominick Cruz misses with this latest injury? Two years? Call me cynical, or maybe realistic, but any hypothetical fights made on the basis of Cruz not being injured for an extended period of time probably belong in the “Not Likely to Happen” column. For all of Cruz’s ability to avoid damage from his opponents in the cage, he’s not been able to dodge the injury bug everywhere else. He’s the epitome of a living soft tissue injury. But, if we want to play the unlikely hypothetical game, the rematch with T.J. Dillashaw and the rubber match with Uriah Faber are the only two options to consider at the moment.
Despite losing his last six championship fights, there are plenty of reasons to give the California Kid a seventh crack at a belt. He’s won his last three fights in the division, and is the most highly ranked Bantamweight not coming off a loss. He and Cruz split their last two fights, and he’s the only person to ever defeat the Dominator in the cage. He and Cruz have a natural rivalry between their competitive fights and the fact the two legitimately dislike each other. Faber also remains one of the biggest draws at 135 pounds, and a championship fight with him in it will draw as well as any Bantamweight fight you can make.
Dillashaw’s case for a rematch lies mainly in the fact that his fight against Cruz is one of the more legitimately debatable championship fight’s we’ve seen in a while. Pundits and fans alike are split down the middle as to who won, so what better way to settle that debate than run it again and hope for a decisive winner? A fight between these two features the fighters who are clearly the best at their weight in the world, one of the best gifts MMA can give fans. However, assuming Cruz is ready to go, I still give the fight to Faber.
I’m not a huge fan of immediate rematches in most circumstances. A second consecutive loss to a champ can leave a contender spinning their wheels in limbo for a long time. No one good wants to fight them because they’re too good, and the mountain they have to climb to get back to the top is already bad enough without having only second tier competition to face off against. Joseph Benavidez is the clear example of this. He’s the second best fighter at flyweight, but his two losses to Demetrious Johnson just have him taking fights to keep busy while he hopes Johnson either clears out the division or the UFC thinks it’s been long enough that they can put him in a title match again. In addition, rematches just stall out the other fighters in the division who had done what they can to earn a title shot, only to be supplanted by someone who lost. It’s often unfair, with a fighter having to risk his earned shot by taking another fight or to forgo a paycheck as they wait out a rematch.
At 36 years old, likely 37 by the time he’d get a championship fight, Faber may be on his last run. There’s no need to burn one of the more popular contenders having him fight someone else, and he’s done enough that he had a good claim for being next in line. Dillashaw is young enough and good enough he’ll be back within a fight or two. I’d match Dillashaw against Raphael Assuncao in a number one contenders fight, with the winner a natural choice for the victor of Cruz v. Faber III. In the event Cruz can’t go for a while, Dillashaw against Faber for an interim title would be fine. They’ve been sniping at one another since Dillashaw left Team Alpha Male, and a grudge match between the two is one of the more marketable fights you can make in that division right now. Regardless of whether or not Cruz can make it back anytime soon, Faber for some sort of title makes plenty of sense for the UFC to set up.
RICH HANSEN, MMATORCH COLUMNIST
Jesus H. Christ Monkeyballs, Jamie. I count, like, six questions on this one. Thank the Lord in heaven I get paid by the word still. OK, so, in order, Cliff Notes style: Dillashaw. Yes. No. No. Sterling. Faber. If the Cliff Notes version is good enough for you, skip the next 1000 words or so and go to Brad’s 49 words below (Hi Brad! You suck!).
T.J. Dillashaw won that fight on my card, 48-47. I have no problem with Cruz getting the decision. I’m happy he won the fight, because who on Earth deserves that kind of redemption and validation more than Dominick Cruz. If you’re a fan of MMA, make that if you’re a fan of any sport, how in the hell can you not support Dominick Cruz, Jamie? And unfortunately for T.J. Dillashaw, he chose the wrong time to be a champion who dropped his title in a great fight by split decision, because there is not just a lack of appetite for a rematch, but an actual appetite for just one division to not have a title rematch. Cain Velasquez is getting a rematch in his first fight after losing his title. As is Jon Jones. As (likely) is Chris Weidman. As will Ronda Rousey. Joanna Jedrzejczyk will be rematching someone she fought 13 months ago (although it will be 19 months in full by the time she fights Claudia Gadelha for the second time). Jose Aldo might get Conor McGregor the next time he fights. Robbie Lawler might be looking at a trilogy match with Johny Hendricks soon. After Jones beats Cormier he might spin his wheels and be forced to rematch Ryan Bader. It’s Dillashaw’s bad luck to be deserving of a rematch at a time when the sport is flooded with them. Add in his Sara McMannesque talent for title fight promotion, and the cards are going to have to fall in a very specific way for him to get another shot to reclaim a belt that he had taken away from him by poor judging (Again, I’m thrilled Cruz got his belt back. But he didn’t win that fight).
So, if Dillashaw doesn’t get the rematch, who does Cruz get next? First, he gets a really good orthopedist, podiatrist, witch doctor, anyone who can heal his foot. The man deserves to be on the UFC 200 card, if just to help recoup some of the lost earnings from the last four years of agony that has been his fighting career. That notwithstanding, the only possible (and semi-possible, and remotely possible, and Sir Not Appearing In This Column choices) are Raphael Assunção, Urijah Faber, Renan Barao, Aljamain Sterling, John Lineker, and Bibiano Fernandes.
Rule out Assunção. He hasn’t fought since October. Of 2014. He’s out. And not marketable. And has already said he’s cool with Faber jumping him in line, and that’s before you factor in the fact that ring rust is real if you’re not a God among men (Mister Cruz). And the fact that despite the progression of time since it happened Urijah Faber has a win over Assunção.
Urijah Faber would be the biggest draw. And the easiest fight for Cruz as well. It’s been more than two years since Faber looked really good against a really good opponent (Michael McDonald, December 2014, I was there. It was fun. Hi Geoff Gallo! Start writing again!) Cruz would walk circles around Faber. But, it would make the most money for Cruz, so there’s that.
Renan Barao holds two wins over Faber, but, like when has THAT criteria mattered to Zuffa when doling out title shots? If he couldn’t catch T.J. Dillashaw, he might not even be able to see Dominick Cruz. Cruz will be harder to locate than Bernie Sanders’ medical records. You’re 74 dude. It’s fair and valid to release them. So, Barao’s out.
Aljamain Sterling is undefeated, can sell a fight, and is as beloved by Zuffa brass as the illegitimate love child of Rob Maysey and Josh Koscheck. Not happening. But he’s the guy I throw in there, if only because at least one division should have one fresh name, and one division should have a star under the age of 25 (based on athletic accomplishments and not on great blonde hair, SagePaige). But Sterling is a free agent (restricted), he’s getting low-balled, and it’s highly unlikely that Zuffa is going to give the man anything, much less a title shot. But keeping the, you know, real world dynamics out of the scenario I’m Jedrzejczyking, Sterling’s my guy. Not happening, though. Plus, if you want to see Dillashaw vs. Faber next, then this is the best available guy to fight Cruz. And Faber vs. Dillashaw is a fight I really want to see, and I want to see it before Faber is 100% shot.
John Lineker would be the most fun option, in as much as watching someone trying to punch Keanu Reeves in The Matrix (or anywhere at any time for that matter YOU CAN’T ACT) would be fun. not happening, but he should at least be mentioned, if only to underscore how bereft for elite level talent the UFC’s bantamweight division is. It’s not 205 lbs, but it’s not 145 lbs, 155 lbs, or 170 lbs, either.
Competitively, the right fight to make is Dillashaw. If not him, Sterling. If not him, Faber. financially, the order would be Faber, Dillashaw, Sterling. As a result, I think Dillashaw should get his rematch, but that Faber actually will get Cruz next. Of course, if Cruz can’t fight on the schedule he’s like to keep, (ie: once every less than 30 months), then it’ll be Alpha Fail vs. Alpha Bang, with Cruz getting the winner.
CASH NORMAN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
My questions are, where in the heck is Raphael Assuncao? Has anyone filed a missing persons report on him? Is it possible to die from an ankle injury? When will fighters understand the importance of keeping themselves in the conversation for big money and championship fights among fans and media?
Listen close fights are not robberies, if the fighter you wanted to win loses. So yes, I believe Dominick Cruz should have won. You know who shouldn’t have won? Travis Browne because eye gouges are illegal according to the unified rules, but who cares about those?
While I understand the history between Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber, it isn’t a fight I wish to see. It has been well documented that a stationary flat footed style isn’t going to beat Dominick Cruz. Honestly what improvements or adjustments in Faber’s game would lead you to believe that he could beat Cruz? If anything Faber’s last fight with Frankie Saenz should tell you all you need to know about where he is at in his career, and it’s on a downward trajectory.
Are we talking about another rematch? Really, another rematch? If we have to talk about any more rematches, I will declare the UFC change its name to RFC: Rematch Fighting Championship. No, there shouldn’t be a rematch and I think T.J. Dillashaw needs to spend time with a sports psychologist. Dominick Cruz mind f***ed Dillashaw before the fight and then beat him in it. Cruz totally took Dillashaw out of what he wanted to do before they stepped into the Octagon. Whining about the result doesn’t change the fact that he broke mentally.
The UFC will take the route that makes them the most money. First they will come up with a plan. Next they will announce it in a public forum to get feedback from the media and fans. Then if everyone isn’t excited by their decision they’ll change it. Essentially media and fans are unpaid focus groups for the UFC.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
The next fight should most definitely be Dillashaw-Cruz 2. I don’t think Cruz won the fight, I don’t think it was that close. I think Dillashaw clearly won three rounds, if not four. As impressed as I am by Cruz, and I’m completely blown away, I don’t think he won that fight. So I’m definitely in the camp if an immediate rematch. Urijah Faber can fight Raphael Assuncao and the winner of that can get the next title shot, but Dillashaw has to get the next shot. I think that’s what the UFC will do, but it’s hard to say exactly. They may go with Faber, but hopefully they give Dillashaw his rightful rematch.
BRAD WALKER MMATORCH COLUMNIST
I never want to assume any part of Dominick Cruz is not injured. This guy has had the roughest run back to his championship that I can ever remember. I hope that the foot isn’t a severe injury, but with his history who really knows? The guy’s not exactly on the best streak of luck regarding injuries.
Let’s look at Dillashaw. He dethroned Barao, beat some guy named Soto, held onto the belt like it was a life preserver on the Titanic, and then beat the daylights out of Barao again. He’s an incredible fighter who has come into his own, and in my mind won the fight with Cruz. He absolutely deserves a rematch after that (horrific 49-46 Cruz card) fight. It was a great fight and Dillashaw did look silly a few times with Cruz slipping almost 70% of his strikes, but he needs the rematch – it’s deserved and owed. Now let’s talk Urijah.
Faber is an elite level fighter who has clearly been boxed out of the title picture by everyone else. He just can’t seem to grasp that belt in the UFC and lord knows he’s lost like 800 title fights since they merged in the WEC. Faber loves himself a fight, especially with Cruz, but is it what anyone else wants? Or feels compelled to see? Not right now for Faber, but if Cruz is shelved he and T.J. can fight over which of them gets him when he’s healthy.
DAYNE FOX, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Not to sound like a douche bag, but part of me was silently rooting against Cruz due to his penchant to constantly be on the sidelines due to injuries. Now that he has the belt back it seems as though nothing has changed with his luck. Poor dude.
The match to make would be a rematch with Dillashaw as it very much could have gone either way (I scored it for Dillashaw myself) and there is no other viable option who has proven themselves worthy to challenge for the belt. At least that is how it would be in a just world…
It isn’t going to happen, and if I was running the show at the UFC, I wouldn’t have it happen either. The UFC has set a bad precedent for immediate rematches for the title recently while also bypassing Jose Aldo to get one. Perhaps to help justify bypassing Aldo (though I think they would without the Aldo situation), I’m sure they’ll squeeze out the last bit of marketability that they can out of the fast-fading Faber. Faber was set to fight Cruz for the title all the way back in 2012 before Cruz’s string of bad luck took hold to complete their trilogy. Their bad blood is no secret and makes for an easily marketable fight. On a pure sport perspective Faber doesn’t deserve the shot, but the fans are tired of instant rematches and it looks like two more are on the horizon with Robbie Lawler-Carlos Condit (we hope at least) and Luke Rockhold-Chris Weidman due to lack of options.
Dillashaw can fight Raphael Assuncao in a #1 contender’s fight in the interim. Assuncao has won seven straight with a victory over Dillashaw among those seven wins. If Assuncao hadn’t already been on the shelf for 16 months, he’d be a better option than Faber. As it is, I’m sure Dillashaw is chomping at the bit to avenge that loss if he can’t get the immediate rematch.
[Photo (c) Bob DeChiara via USA Today Sports]
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