After 17 years, the UFC is ready to deliver the first sub-155-pound main event in Octagon history.
The headlining honors belong to 135-pounders Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber as the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. hosts UFC 132 this Saturday night.
Their last meeting in Sin City occurred in March 2007 when Faber, then the WEC featherweight champion, retained his belt versus Cruz via first-round guillotine choke. Four years later, Cruz has the opportunity to defend his 135-pound crown for the third time in his UFC debut while avenging the lone loss of his 18-fight career (17-1) against “The California Kid” (25-4).
"That's exactly what I feel I'm doing: I'm staking my claim and showing what I can do and that I deserve to be the king of this weight class," the UFC bantamweight champion told Bleacher Report.
UFC parent company Zuffa experimented with the marketability of the lower weight classes by showcasing them in the WEC for the last three years. It was successful largely because of Faber, the face of the organization, who headlined the WEC’s lone pay-per-view offering opposite Jose Aldo.
Participating in another landmark bout for the sub-155-pound divisions is the latest in a long line of Faber’s headlining duties that date back to his third ever contest.
"I feel lucky to have been in this position but it's also come on the back of a lot of hard work. There hasn't been all highs in my career,” Faber said to Bleacher Report, “and to stay on course and not get deserted and create opportunities for yourself—that's what this is about. This is me creating opportunities by winning by staying persistent and consistent and going after what I want."
The UFC’s inaugural bantamweight title tilt suggests the lower the weight, the higher the stakes. The chemistry for this bout fuels the rematch with heavyweight hype.
At 26 years old, Cruz is riding an impeccable three-fight run that began with capturing the WEC bantamweight belt as a four-to-one underdog and ended with winning the UFC’s first bantamweight title.
The Alliance MMA representative’s first two title defenses saw him fight 10 rounds totaling 50 minutes with a busted left hand, earning decisions versus top-five world ranked opponents Joseph Benavidez and Scott Jorgensen.
Despite all the accolades, the Arizona native has not approached the same star status Faber is known for relishing.
"In order to be considered the best, there's certain guys you got to beat and a lot of people believe [Faber]’s the guy for me to beat in order to prove that,” said Cruz, aiming for nine consecutive victories. “Okay, I'm ready to do it. I get to get my only loss back. I'm excited to go out there and prove what I can do."
The merit of Faber’s ledger became stronger with his UFC debut in March when the 32-year-old bested the WEC’s inaugural bantamweight champion Eddie Wineland. It was Faber’s second straight victory and his third in four outings.
His proven star quality rendered him the obvious choice to challenge Cruz for the UFC bantamweight belt first. With a 1-3 record in his last four title fights, Faber must perform like the fighter that successfully defended his belt five times to remain relevant for title tenures more than marketing muscle.
"I was dealing with a lot of adversity in those fights. I pushed through it and tried to win the whole time. I think he's a lot less dangerous than the other guys I've fought for the title the last two times,” said the Sacramento, Calif. based fighter, who plans to further his legacy by joining Randy Couture and B.J. Penn as a two-division titleholder.
“I'm a lot more elusive and have a more even playing field at this weight."
Victory against Cruz, who is 3-1 in his last four title fights, would restore Faber’s kingpin credibility. Conversely, a win for “The Dominator” would infuse the champion’s in-ring accomplishments with the popularity of a UFC titleholder.
Cruz pulls main event duty for the second time in his career, while Faber enjoys top billing for the 14th time in his career—remarkably one shy of headlining half his career contests.
The champion summed up what is up for grabs at Cruz vs. Faber II perfectly: “I'm here to make history and not be history.”
Follow Danny Acosta on twitter.com/acostaislegend.