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  • 02-15-2013, 11:46 PM
    Sakara=Excitement

    UFC Champ Dominick Cruz On His Recovery, Return And Barao-McDonald Prediction

    UFC champ Dominick Cruz on his recovery, return and Barao-McDonald prediction | News



    It's weird to think that, if Renan Barao is victorious against Michael McDonald on Saturday, he'll have won as many interim bantamweight title bouts in the UFC as Dominick Cruz has actual wins.

    What's even weirder is that, of all the parties in some way related to Saturday's UFC on FUEL TV 7 interim title fight, Cruz (19-1 MMA, 2-0 UFC) may be the one with the best fix on what this fight is really all about.

    "They're fighting for the No. 1 contender spot, in my mind," Cruz told MMAjunkie.com (UFC blog for UFC news, UFC rumors, fighter interviews and event previews/recaps) this week. "They're fighting for the chance to fight the champ."

    How can you argue with that? Honestly, I'm not sure to what extent Barao (29-1 MMA, 4-0 UFC) or McDonald (19-1 MMA, 4-0 UFC) would even try. When I asked them both what they thought the stakes were in this weekend's bout, neither made any attempt to claim that this interim title was, by itself, all that meaningful.

    "For me, it doesn't matter if it's an interim belt," said Barao, the current interim titleholder. "It's the main event. It's the real thing."
    For McDonald, it's not about much more than a paycheck. Interim title or no, he said, fighting is "how I make my living and how I can hopefully provide a future for my family. I don't care about a title."

    Those are all things you might expect to hear from the fighters who don't have the title, and who are also smart enough to find their own meaning in the bout rather than pretending that it's for anything other than a placeholder championship. Because, let's be honest, that's exactly what an interim title is. It's a made-up belt. It's something to help promote fights while the champ is indisposed, and also something tangible to help us keep tabs on who the front-runner is for the first crack at the champ when he returns.

    As UFC President Dana White put it when discussing the bantamweight situation in London this week: "The way that it works in the fight business is you beat the man who beat the man."

    And Cruz? Even with a bum knee, he's still the man. That's why he described himself as "humbled" by the news that White has no plans to strip him of his title while he rehabs his injury.

    "What are my other options?" Cruz said. "I've got a knee that's busted. I can't compete right now, and that breaks my heart. I'm not able to put on a show for the fans, and the fans want to see me back. I know that. I see it every day on Twitter, and I hear it when I go places, and I get that question, when are you coming back? I deal with that question every day."
    The difficult part is that Cruz still doesn't have a firm answer. He's staying busy with physical therapy sessions these days, and he's coaching at the Alliance gym in San Diego and doing FUEL TV commentary for the UFC. He won't be cleared to start running until next week at the earliest, he said, but his current mix of activities "keeps my mind and my body in the sport."

    Still, by the time he's able to return to the cage, two years or more may have passed since his last fight. That's a long time off, especially if your first assignment upon returning is going to be a bout against the division's other champ.

    "That's another thing I have to think about," Cruz said. "Barao and McDonald, they're hungry and they're competing, putting together wins, and they're doing well for the division. The truth is, though, until they fight me, they haven't fought the champ. That's something they have to think about also. I have to get back so I can prove why I'm the champion of the division."
    When asked to pick a winner in Saturday's bout, Cruz gave the slight edge to Barao, whose defense, he said, "is even tighter than McDonald's."

    "I think that's going to be the difference-maker," Cruz said. "He's also tough to take down, and I think he has a much better chance of taking McDonald down than the other way around."
    But if Cruz turns out to be right, and if Barao winds up being the man he makes his return against, can he possibly be ready for that after a two-year layoff? The interim belt itself may not be terribly meaningful, but the more its owner has to fight to defend it, the sharper he's liable to be when he finally gets his chance to exchange that token for a shot at the real champ.

    Can Cruz really shake off whatever rust he accumulated during his long injury layoff in time to face that challenge? Or is that too much to ask, even of the man who beat the man?

    "As much as everybody else is thinking about that, I'm thinking about it more," he said. "I'm also preparing for it more."

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