The latest installment of the The Ultimate Fighter has not been long in establishing itself as a microcosm of reality. It is a reality show after all, but the reality I refer to is not the exhibition of real people enacting an unscripted performance.
The reality of which I speak is a reflection of the real. The reality of which I speak is this: Dominick Cruz has Urijah Faber's number.
The current contest between rivals began in earnest when Team Faber's Daron Cruickshank and Team Cruz's James Vick squared off. The bout was selected by Faber, who won the right to choose the first fight by handing the first overall selection to his adversary.
Faber tried to play it safe, matching his third selection against Cruz's fifth. During the early stages of the bout, it appeared as though Faber's selection was a clever one, as Cruickshank picked apart a hesitant Vick.
Then everything changed. Cruickshank was caught with a knee to the dome and went night night.
The knee did not just change the course of the fight, nor just the course of the show. The moment that knee landed was the moment a reality show became reality—Cruz had defeated Faber.
Things got real.
After eliminating Faber's third pick, Cruz decided to go for the jugular. He called out his No. 1 selection, Justin Lawrence, and deferred the right to choose an opponent to Faber.
The move left Dana White flabbergasted and Faber's team quite literally speechless. The suspended animation of live television was dispelled only when Cruz finally intervened, calling Cristiano Marcello out of his chair.
On fight night, Lawrence sat the Brazilian right back down.
Beyond the fact that the win kept matchmaking rights on Cruz's side, it removed Team Faber's second fighter from the tournament.
Not one to switch up what was working, Cruz dropped the hammer by calling out Faber's first selection, Al Iaquinta, to tussle with Myles Jury, Cruz's third pick.
Team Faber needs a win like nothing else in this matchup. A loss means the team's top three fighters are out, while Cruz builds a 3-0 lead, all the while keeping an ace up his sleeve in Sam Sicilia.
While Iaquinta looked impressive in the show's first episode, Jury was the higher-regarded of the two entering the contest. And despite the inversion of expectations created by selection order, Jury enters this fight as the favorite.
A win for Team Cruz would give Dominick a stranglehold in The Ultimate Fighter.
Though it's still early, the advantageous position Cruz finds himself in is emblematic of his growing dominance over archenemy Urijah Faber.
As two of the most successful fighters in the UFC's bantamweight stable, Cruz and Faber are quite familiar with each other. Each combatant has defeated the other, with Faber reigning victorious in the first match, back in March of 2007, and Cruz winning the second in July of 2011.
Rather than multiple bouts producing a bevy of warm hugs and mutual respect, animosity has been born and born anew each time the two enter the cage together. They say familiarity breeds contempt, and the relationship between these two 135-pounders does the cliche nothing but justice.
But what was once a rivalry between equal adversaries is beginning to look more and more like a one-sided affair.
Take a look at the developments:
Cruz has not lost since his first fight with Urijah, nearly five years ago. Faber has gone 8-4 since then.
Cruz is entering his prime as a 26-year-old. Faber is exiting his prime at 32.
The most recent contest between the two saw Cruz winning a convincing decision, shutting down Faber's wrestling and out-striking "The California Kid."
The two are scheduled to hook 'em up in a rubber match this July, and just as it stand with The Ultimate Fighter, all signs point to "The Dominator" coming away victorious.
If you're curious as to what can be gleaned from The Ultimate Fighter in regards to who will win the fight between coaches, the answer is nothing. The show is not the reason Cruz will once again defeat Faber; the show is simply another venue in which Cruz will beat Faber.
The Ultimate Fighter is not the beginning, nor the end, for the rivals—just another chapter. A coming-of-age-story for Cruz, and the backslide towards an unhappy ending for Faber.