By the time the Octagon door slams shut on February 1, it will have been 28 months since UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz last defended his title.
Because of various injuries and setbacks in recovery for Cruz, the UFC was forced to manufacture an interim title, which Renan Barao gladly claimed and has successfully defended twice.
UFC president Dana White has been waiting a long time to arrange a title unification bout between the two, but Cruz’s surgically repaired knee hasn’t cooperated. Or has it and Cruz has been intentionally delaying his return to ensure he’s in tip-top form?
White believes it’s a little bit of both, but a tad bit more of the latter.
“I shouldn’t say this, but I will, because this is what I f****** do to myself. I think that Cruz has kind of been stalling. I think Cruz has dragged this thing out longer than needed to be,” White told a small group of reporters following Thursday’s UFC 167 press conference. “Because I think he’s working extra hard on working off the ring rust. Doing the things, that, this just came to our attention a few weeks ago, that Cruz possibly could have fought much sooner. Which makes the fight even more interesting.
“I don’t f****** blame him. Do you want to take two years off and then face Renan Barao?”
If Cruz in fact stalled out his return, he milked it until it was bone dry because White was fully prepared to strip him of his title if he wasn’t able to come back by early 2014. Coincidentally, that’s exactly when “The Dominator” will be back. Cruz was never worried about the threat, and now White knows why.
Either way, all things considered, it’s worked out fairly nicely for both champs. Barao has had the opportunity to showcase his skills on a championship level by posting highlight reel finishes in his two defenses, while Cruz got to shake off as much rust as possible.
The long-awaited bantamweight title unification bout finally goes down Super Bowl Saturday inside Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.