Twenty-seven professional fights over 16 years and Dominick Cruz not only has a pragmatic approach to his current position, but also what’s at stake this weekend and the near future.
The former two-time bantamweight world champion headlines the UFC Fight Night card on Saturday, taking on Marlon Vera live from the Pechanga Arena in San Diego, Calif. Cruz, 36, is on a third run to become a UFC titleholder.
A convincing win over Vera and Cruz could be staring down the winner of the Oct. 22 title tilt between champion Aljamain Sterling and former champ T.J. Dillashaw in time. Although, the winner of Petr Yan vs. Sean O'Malley the same night could have a say in that title shot first, it isn't stopping Cruz from having Sterling and Dillashaw well scouted.
“I think you got to have a good grappling background. Not just grappling, not just submission grappling, but wrestling in order to really create scrambles or real problems for a guy like Sterling,” Cruz tells DAZN News over a recent Zoom conference call. “And he’s facing that in Dillashaw, who had a 100 percent takedown defense before facing me. I took him down a couple of times in that fight and that changed. When it comes to Sterling, he’s going to have to get through Dillashaw.
“I stack up against both of them,” he adds upon further review. “I beat Dillashaw, already, and I can beat him again. He was probably cheating when I beat him and I wasn’t, so that gives a lot of truth right there.
“I have no doubt in myself. I’m a world champion. I’m still here. I just need to get through the next phase which is ‘Chito’ Vera.”
And that’s far from a given. Vera is one of the most steely fighters on the UFC roster, counting wins over the likes of Frankie Edgar and Sean O’Malley, and currently riding a three-fight win streak.
“He’s no easy opponent,” Cruz says of Vera. “Nobody in the Top 5 can have an easy fight with him — not Sterling or Dillashaw. I’m not expecting an easy fight. I’m expecting a war.”
Prognosticating a bit more, Cruz anticipates what he calls “a street fight, technical fight.” Each avenue of fighting is something Cruz is comfortable traversing. However, with age, Cruz has learned to not let his pride drag him too much into brawling and discarding his technical skills.
“I learned that in my fight with Cody Garbrandt to be honest,” says Cruz about the December 2016 bout, which he lost by unanimous decision. “I got pulled into a street-fight style. Once I got cut, I really had to kind of push the envelope, so it’s just a different style of fight when you do that.
“When you stay neutral and I can be more composed, it just allows me to … I think I could just be more unattached and less attached to ego,” he continues, “and it allows me to do what I need to do to work.”
Entering the fight, Cruz is ranked the No. 8 bantamweight to Vera’s fifth. A win, especially one that racks up the social media likes, would help Cruz catapult up the rankings. But it’s not something that he’s dwelling on.
“If you get a highlight reel win, you could get a really good fight,” Cruz says. “That’s what it’s all about. So, it’s important but winning is what matters. But not aiming for something. When you aim for something, you can’t be unattached.
“Then, you’re trying to get something, you’re trying to get something … you’re fighting two things, not just one thing,” he tacks on. “I’m just trying to fight the one thing in front of me and get the win.”