There was a time when fighters who roamed weight divisions south of 155 were barely given a second's thought by the casual fans of MMA. Once in a while Urijah Faber would fight and people would bend an ear but for the most part, the only people buying in were fight nerds and journalists.
A lot has changed in a short period of time. Along with "The California Kid," names like Jose Aldo and Dominick Cruz have thrown their hat in the ring and showcased to the world just how competitive and entertaining these lighter-weight fighters can be.
Dominick Cruz in particular has not only made huge waves as a top-10 pound-for-pound fighter in the world today, but he has even stolen a little of that thunder and momentum that once followed Faber like the fortune of the gods. The man has made more than one statement for himself and his division of bantamweight combatants.
It is the momentum of fighters like Dom Cruz, Aldo and Faber that opened the door for the UFC to acknowledge that these divisions could indeed perpetuate the sport as much as any other division. So they opened up the books and welcomed the bantamweight and featherweight divisions into the UFC.
This opened the door for Cruz to become the first-ever UFC BW champion over Scottie Jorgensen. He went on to make his first title defense against bitter rival, and the only man to ever beat him, Urijah Faber at UFC 132. Now Dom looks to make his second UFC title defense against Demetrious Johnson at UFC Live On VS 6.
Dom was kind enough to speak with Todd Jackson of The Truth Hurts at Hurtsbad MMA, and the champ took a moment to reflect on avenging that one blemish in his loss column across 19 professional fights.
The first question was, did he take extra satisfaction in beating Faber in such a decisive fashion knowing that there was so much bad blood and trash talk leading up to fight night? The champ answered as decisively as he beat his foe.
"Hell yeah, have you seen some of the pictures that came out after I won? I was on top of the world. Even if that fight wasn't for a title, that was a win that I wanted so bad. He beat me, and I knew that I could beat him and I knew that I had the skill set to do so."
While earning a unanimous decision over one of the sport's most celebrated stars over five rounds was quite an accomplishment in itself, it was not Dominick's only victory that night. The layers to this victory were many.
The champ went on the explain, "On top of fact of all the media, and all the trash talk, there was just a lot of pressure on going in there and performing in that fight. It wasn't necessarily just going in there and winning. It was going in there and putting on a performance for the entire 135-pound division."
Sure to not take all the credit, he talked about what he and Faber were able to do as a duo. "We set the bar for that division. If that fight hadn't gone as well as it did it could have been bad for our division. There was more to it than just going in there and just beating Faber. There was the title, and the entire division as a whole, it was the first time we had ever headlined a UFC card, there was bad blood between us, there was four years in the making of wanting to beat this guy."
And then he was able to exhale. "Winning was like taking a weight off of my chest, I felt outstanding after the win. I had put a lot of work in and I continue to work so that I can continue to grow and get better. I want to keep learning and keep beating the people that come my way."
It had become the feather in the cap of an already impressive career. But it is a career that shows no signs of slowing down. Already considered one of the top fighters in the world, where can Cruz go from here?
When asked about the future and the possibility of his greatness transcending weight classes, Dom humbly answered a question about moving back to the division where he started his fight career, featherweight.
He told The Truth Hurts, "I definitely want to put a star on the fact that I'm very focused on the fact that I'm fighting Mighty Mouse and he is nobody to be looking past. But absolutely you have to think in terms of my career, I'm a fighter. I want to do great things. I want to be considered the best fighter pound for pound that ever lived some day."
He sees a move on the horizon but is currently focused on today. "Moving up in weight would be something that I am going to have to look into and do in the future. Right now though, I'm not too worried about it. There is a ton of guys in my division."
Probably the most impressive thing the champ had to say was to critique himself not just in relation to his fighting career but himself as an individual. It is not often that a man will offer more than what is asked of him; the champ was happy to share his goals across life as a whole, not just inside the cage.
"Really there is a lot for me to prove as a person even outside of fighting alone. I'm doing all this stuff in fighting, but I'm an underdog in life. So there is a lot of things that I still need to do to grow as a person before I really start looking beyond too far and beyond what is in front of me."
Said like a true champion.
As for other aspects to the fight game that have his blood pumping, as if another title defense is not enough, Dom lit up when asked about the 14th season of The Ultimate Fighter. This season features both featherweight and bantamweight athletes.
Dom boasted, "It's exciting to me. Once the 135-pound division makes it to The Ultimate Fighter, it's out there for the casual fan to see. This is just as respected as any other division in the UFC, and that's basically what it comes down to. It kind of helps the casual fan respect and understand that there are other weight classes other than 155 pounds and up."
He sees the potential in these lower divisions being featured by a show like The Ultimate Fighter that really draws a different demographic than the typical hardcore fight fans.
He explained, "I'm excited about it, the sky is the limit now for our division. And the UFC just signed a deal with Fox. I mean you can watch the football game and they are promoting the UFC, that's unbelievable. I'm just so excited, I'm just amped up. I'm ready to perform and a I really just can't wait to get out there on October first."
Looking at that last statement it is hard not to share the champ's excitement. This sport has been on a roll for quite some time now and the future looks brighter than ever. It is great to know that guys like Dominick Cruz are leading the charge. It reassures us that in the long term the foundation of this sport is being built on class acts and the type of character and ability it will take to make the future as strong as it can possibly be.
This article originally featured at Hurtsbad MMA.