LAS VEGAS—Is the lightest champion in the UFC the best?
A historic 25-minute headlining clash for the inaugural UFC Bantamweight Championship saw Dominick Cruz’s hand raised opposite Urijah Faber in front of 12,4097 fans for his fourth consecutive 135-pound title win at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Dominick Cruz didn’t dominate Urijah Faber, but he did prove to be the undisputed kingpin at 135-pounds and just as sharp as any other fighter on the pound-for-pound list. The speed, power, experience and gameness of “The California Kid” was the toughest test of Cruz’s 19-fight career. The bantamweight champion anchored out of Alliance MMA in Chula Vista, Calif. debuted in the UFC to retain his crown for the third time, doing his part to live up to the historical hype of the first sub-155-pound main event in history.
Cruz and Faber left everything in the cage, consequently leaving no doubt the lighter weight classes adopted from the WEC (and eventually the flyweight division) can undoubtedly carry a main event.
At 26-years-old, “The Dominator” arrived in the UFC as he left the WEC—in the middle of an impressive title run. A four-to-one underdog before winning the belt from Brian Bowles last March, Cruz’s 25-minute unanimous decision wins versus Joseph Benavidez, Scott Jorgensen—fights Cruz contested with a busted hand—and Urijah Faber should call attention the defensive precedent he is setting in the sport.
The Arizona native’s slips, footwork and movement makes fighters who are clearly number two in the world appear frustrated at times. An ability to walk forward and trouble opponents with a high volume adds to the woes of his challengers. A three-fight underdog win streak by Demetrious Johnson should be Cruz’s next defense.
Despite dropping his fourth straight title bout, Faber remains a marketable star with a competitive claim at the top of the division. He came up short in his quest to join B.J. Penn, Randy Couture, Dan Henderson and Jake Shields as two-division champions—a part of his legacy he deserves to chase again.
A long-awaited fight versus fellow star Miguel Torres would satisfy fans and should Faber emerge victorious, be credible enough to set up a trilogy with Cruz. Cruz-Faber can be to the lighter weight classes what Chuck Liddell-Randy Couture’s trilogy was for the sport as a whole.
Their excellent Fight of the Night is paramount for the longevity of mixed martial arts. After all, the lower weights that the UFC is unveiling to endear to its fans are the ones that currently carry boxing.
UFC 132 was the best main card in UFC history. Two opposite stories about pioneering MMA legends elevated the magnitude of the night before Cruz and Faber closed it out impressively.
Has the sandstorm ended for Wanderlei Silva?
When Wanderlei Silva walks out to fight, he enters to a trance theme “Sandstorm,” the soundtrack to a five-year title reign as the PRIDE Middleweight Champion
After Chris Leben decimated his hero with uppercuts en route to a 27-second first round knockout, Silva, 35, may be at the end of his storied career. A kill-or-be-killed fighter, four of his last six losses have come by way of knockout. “The Axe Murderer” earned a reputation in a combat sport for being a violent competitor. The Brazilian must now examine with UFC President Dana White, his family and coaches if he can still compete without sacrificing long-term health.
Leben scored the signature win of his 19-fight UFC career against the former PRIDE Middleweight Champion. His first round TKO loss to Brian Stann shouldn’t keep him from contender fights especially since he preceded it with back-to-back wins in two weeks—a historic feat that saw him finish Aaron Simpson (Knockout of the Night) and Yoshihiro Akiyama (Fight of the Night). A bout with Vitor Belfort should he get past Akiyama on August 6 can be another former champion in the fan favorite’s path to a long-shot title match with Anderson Silva.
Organizations aside, is Tito Ortiz the story of the year?
Former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Tito Ortiz shocked the world by submitting Ryan Bader less than two minutes into the first round via guillotine choke. Ortiz, 36, was a five-to-one underdog when scoring his first win since 2006 and his first submission since 2000. Everybody loves an underdog story, and even a polarizing figure like “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” can still capture the imagination of the critics and fans that counted him out. It’s the magic of a charismatic former champion and with the troubles of his personal life plastered on TMZ, a real triumph.
It will be nearly impossible to top Zuffa acquiring Strikeforce as a story of the year in 2011, but organizations come and go—legends last forever.
Follow Danny Acosta on twitter.com/acostaislegend