As the sport of mixed martial arts continues to evolve and grow, its fans grow along with it. MMA has transformed from its open weight bare knuckle roots to the UFC now talking about adding an eighth weight class.
The transformation has been nothing short of astonishing. One of the huge reasons the UFC can even consider adding a 125 pound weight class is due to the success Zuffa has found incorporating smaller weight divisions into the UFC.
Obviously, that success gained traction under Zuffa's WEC banner. The level of talent and competition that was bred inside that bright blue Octagon often rivaled, and at times exceeded, UFC events. Simply put, the smaller fighters can scrap and have proven more than capable of captivating the MMA community.
It is fighters like Urijah Faber and Dominick Cruz that exemplify exactly why the community has embraced these lighter but equally as entertaining combatants. Their fierce combination of precision, aggression, showmanship and their championship pedigrees make them alluring superstars for fans to follow.
The first time these two met, few fight fans were even aware of anything outside the UFC as far as mainstream MMA goes. Urijah Faber defeated Dominick Cruz over four years ago. This was a time when he was developing as one of the single most influential sub 155 pound fighters this sport had ever known. At this same time, Dom Cruz was just getting his feet wet at such a high level in this sport.
For an undefeated fighter making his mainstream MMA debut for a WEC title, Dom handled himself well against the "California Kid," but when he strayed from a game plan that seemed to be working on Faber, Cruz found himself deep in the business end of a world class guillotine choke.
Now, four years later, much has changed. The smaller weight divisions have earned the respect they always deserved. Mainstream fans have begun to recognize and support the Cruzes and Fabers of the world for what they are, and that would be some of the most exciting athletes in the sport.
And these two who met so long ago are not even close to the same fighters they were then. The sport has changed, the fans have changed and most importantly, the fighters have changed.
Now, Urijah Faber and Dominick Cruz will settle the score, along with quite a bit of bad blood. And the MMA world is watching very closely. The rivalries in this sport have been well documented with names like Liddell and Ortiz (or Couture; take your pick). On the other hand, we have Penn and GSP or Big Nog and Fedor, just to name a couple.
The bottom line is, certain fighters are destined for one another. Certain fighters are so elite they can rarely find the types of challenges they find with their most respected or in some cases most bitter rivals. Cruz and Faber are somewhere on that spectrum.
Having only battled once, there is still more than enough history between these two and their camps. They are not unfamiliar with each other at all. In some way, shape or form, they have been in opposite corners on many occasions, with various outcomes leaving them both craving further competition.
So now the top dog of Team Alpha Male will face Alliance MMA's most celebrated fighter. These two camps have been doing battle for some time now, with Alliance MMA coming out on top as of late. Faber's protege Joseph Benavidez has lost twice under dominant performances of Cruz.
Obviously, for a teacher to see his student lose one sided affairs to a man he once beat, Faber has found a little discontent for Cruz. And Cruz is not preparing any Christmas cards for the Alpha Male team, either.
So of course, whenever there is bad blood, the fans huddle around to drink in the drama. Oh, how drama herds the sheep. What is most amazing about all of this is one simple thing. Faber and Cruz are no dummies; they are promoting this fight to the moon and back. They talk a hard game, but they can more than back it up.
If they can get the world to pay attention to the left hand all the while holding in their right hand the keys to what could potentially become one of the greatest fights this sport has ever seen, well, what harm can a little extra trash talk do?
But unlike the masses, these two wizards of their craft understand the talk only goes skin deep. Their level of discontent with one another may blossom on the big stage, but its roots are found in what can only be defined as a deep respect for each other.
No man looks across the cage at his most heated adversary and thinks, "I'm gong to whip this punk's ass." The fact of the matter is if that man across the cage had not earned his deepest respect, he would not be worthy of even being considered a rival in the first place.
The difference between a mark and a rival is a mark is hunted and used; a rival is always on the radar lest they become the hunter.
Make no mistake, while they may not be pen pals, these two are fully aware of what is at stake Saturday night and what the risks involved are when they enter that Octagon together. Pride may veil it with a curtain of disrespect or trash talk, but rest assured there is a mutual level of respect here that can not be overlooked by either man or their fans.
What is most amazing about this fight is the attention it has received, the buzz it has created within the MMA community, the media attention it has lured. Because again, what is about to happen Saturday night is going to change the bantamweight division forever.
Urijah Faber has long been considered one of the faces of this sport; he earned that distinguished honor as an elite competitor with lightning pumping through his veins. Win or lose, this guy is never ever in a boring fight. He is an amazing competitor and crucial component to the sport. He defended the WEC featherweight title five times.
His name will go down in MMA history.
Dominick Cruz has proved to be one of the sport's most influential fighters as a top pound for pound contender and a unique style that is now appearing in regional MMA cages across the country. His one of a kind approach is both effective and entertaining and people are paying attention. His talents made him the final WEC and first ever UFC bantamweight champion.
His name will go down in MMA history.
It just so happens that these two gentlemen are scheduled for a five round title fight at UFC 132, and what will happen when those cage doors close is anyone's guess. Outcomes are one thing, but one guarantee is this: When it is over, nobody who sees this will ever forget it.
These two have a role to play in the history of this sport and this division. What they do in that cage Saturday night will represent the pure potential for what this sport can become. It will take the greatest Urijah Faber we have ever seen to beat Cruz and nothing less than the most impressive Dom Cruz ever can defeat Faber.
Not one person should expect anything less than either of those two versions appearing on fight night. It is inconceivable to consider how this actually might go down, and equally inconceivable why anyone in their right mind would miss this fight.
See you Saturday night, fight fans.
This article originally featured at Hurtsbad MMA.