UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw proved Saturday that his first win over Renan Barao was no fluke by unleashing another dominant finish over the Brazilian to retain his title. While Dillashaw might currently be the toast of the men’s 135-pound town, there’s a giant, injury-prone elephant in the octagon that needs to be talked about.
Dominick Cruz (pictured). Remember him? Cruz is the former UFC bantamweight champ who never lost the belt, but was stripped of it because he continues to lose battles to the pesky injury bug. Dillashaw needs to beat a healthy Cruz in order to solidify his status as the planet’s best bantamweight.
No champion ever wants to be considered a “paper champion,” and while I’m not about to slap that label on Dillashaw because it’s not his fault Cruz can’t find a way to stay off the IR, there are some out there who have. In fact, Cruz is likely one of them.
MMA is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sport, so it might be tough for fans to remember that Cruz was arguably the most dominant champion the UFC had before he started stockpiling injuries. His combination of skill, speed and footwork were unmatched – until Dillashaw admittedly ripped off Cruz’s game to beat Barao the first time around.
Cruz finally ended his injury-plagued, three-year hiatus in September by blasting Takeya Mizugaki in merely 61 seconds to collect his 11th straight victory. Cruz was immediately granted a crack to reclaim his throne, but, as fate would have it, suffered an ACL injury to his right knee and has been riding the pine ever since.
It’s unlikely the UFC would throw Cruz right into a championship affair after another long layoff due to an injury, so it’s possible Dillashaw will get the chance to avenge his 2013 split decision defeat to Raphael Assuncao first.
However, Cruz is the W Dillashaw needs, and he knows it. In fact everybody knows it.
“To be the man, you have to beat the man,” isn’t just a line Ric Flair coined to cut pro wrestling promos, it rings true in Dillashaw’s world today more than ever.