After they are finished coaching on The Ultimate Fighter, bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber will meet inside the cage for the third time in their careers. Considering he has lost his past four title fights, the bout may also be Faber's last chance to become champion once again.
In their last meeting in July of last year, Cruz controlled the pace of the fight for the most part, but he wasn't able to pull away from Faber to earn the dominant victory he probably would have preferred. Due to the slightly controversial decision, Faber was given a quick road back to a rematch with Cruz, needing only a knockout of Brian Bowles between his second and third meetings with the 135-pound champion.
As the rubber match between Cruz and Faber approaches this July, let's take a look at which fighter has an edge in the fight for the bantamweight belt.
In their second meeting, Cruz used his speed and unorthodox footwork to land 40 more significant strikes than Faber.
Considering he hasn't recorded a knockout due to strikes in more than four years, Cruz likely sacrifices power for speed in the awkward angles he enters his strikes from, but the champion's style has proven effective enough for him to become one of the greatest bantamweights ever.
Faber did knock Cruz to the canvas multiple times in their second fight. However, those knockdowns appeared more a result of Cruz being off balance than actually being rocked, as the Alliance MMA fighter quickly bounced back to his feet.
While Faber has seven knockout wins in his career, many of them are due to doctor or corner stoppages. The former WEC featherweight champion has the ability to hurt Cruz on his feet, but, having never been knocked out, the champion has a solid chin and his quickness causes problems for Faber.
Though many would give Faber the edge over Cruz in wrestling, it was the champion who took "The California Kid" down four times at UFC 132. That being said, Cruz also had 13 takedown attempts, so he was bound to drag Faber to the canvas a few times.
Meanwhile, Faber only tried to take Cruz down five times in the second fight between these two competitors. Expect the challenger to enter the rubber match with a game plan more focused on earning the belt by taking this fight to the ground.
In 31 fights, Faber has never been bested on the ground. After coming up short against Cruz on his feet, Faber will sell out to take this rubber match to the ground.
The only loss of Cruz's career came in 2007 when Faber was able to take him to the canvas. If Faber can do the same in July, he will have a strong chance of dethroning Cruz and becoming a champion once again.
Having already submitted Cruz with a guillotine choke, Faber does have the edge when it comes to submissions. However, Faber's advantage is much less significant now, as Cruz has spent five years training under Lloyd Irvin since being forced to tap against Faber.
Still, Faber has never been submitted in his career and has defeated 14 opponents by submission, while Cruz has only picked up a single submission win in his 20 career fights.
Faber has competed in 11 more fights than Cruz over the course of his career and fought in several title fights as the face of the WEC.
However, Cruz has now defended his belt in four straight fights and is about as experienced as a fighter can get.
Both fighters also have excellent camps behind them and know enough about each other that game-planning won't be much of a factor in this fight.
After cutting down to bantamweight (135 pounds) from featherweight (145), it is likely that Faber is a physically stronger fighter than Cruz.
However, there are very few 135-pound fighters who can match Cruz's quickness and conditioning. Those characteristics gave Cruz the edge over Faber in the second meeting between the two fighters and they will be the deciding factors in the rubber match if Cruz is able to keep the fight standing again.
Cruz's chin and ability to work at a much faster pace than "The California Kid" make the champion a sure-fire winner in a stand-up fight against Faber. A 25-minute fight last July showed that Cruz is the superior fighter on his feet and his will prove it again unless Faber can take the fight to the ground.
While Faber has the wrestling to take Cruz down, the Alliance MMA fighter also has the takedown defense to keep this fight standing for the majority of three out of five rounds.
Faber remains one of the top fighters in the world, but he has been surpassed by the next generation of truly great fighters in Cruz and Jose Aldo.
Unfortunately for Faber, the timing of the UFC's adoption of the featherweight and bantamweight division hurt his chances of ever wearing UFC gold around his waist.
Still, Faber will always be able to hang his hat on the fact that those divisions may have never caught on and been introduced in the UFC if it had not been for him building up the popularity of the smaller fighters in the WEC.
Cruz defeats Faber by decision.