Long before Dominick Cruz stepped into a cage with Brian Bowles to challenge for the WEC Bantamweight Championship, long before he found his way to the WEC at all, he was just another young kid from Tucson looking to make his dreams into reality.
Over the years he took the necessary steps to make those dreams come true. In doing so he became a hometown hero for many fight fans and aspiring mixed martial artists cutting their teeth in the Sonoran desert.
Today, Cruz is a world champion, an icon in the sport of MMA, yet other aspects of who he is might surprise many people. Dom, as his friends know him, is one of the most humble and well spoken fighters you could ever have the pleasure of meeting.
Cruz is a true class act, a strong reflection of the values and mentality which influenced him throughout his youth in his hometown.
The champ was kind enough to take a moment out of his extremely stacked schedule to share his thoughts regarding his upbringing in Tucson, AZ, and his overall roots as a man and a champion.
His Tucson roots took hold early in his life. Dom talked about how he made his way to The Old Pueblo. “I was actually born in San Diego, and my parents moved to Tucson when I was 3 years old. I was raised from 3 years old up to 21 in Tucson. I went to Flowing Wells High School.”
He went on to add, “It’s just my life, Tucson man, that's where I was raised and brought up, and I’m proud of it.”
The first steps of his journey toward his days as a champion were taken on a high school wrestling mat. Dom spoke about how his appreciation for competition led him to wrestling and beyond.
“I started wrestling when I was in seventh grade, and fell in love with it. It never stopped since then. I wrestled at Flowing Wells Jr. High all the way through to my senior year. After my senior year, I started boxing about six months after I graduated and transferred to MMA soon after.”
While many gruelling hours are dedicated to the type of training and preparation that molds a champion, in his free time the champ has more simple tastes.
“When I get back home, I like to just meet up with my friends. It’s usually plenty hot, so I like to spend time by the pool, or head up to the lake or river, maybe camping. I usually just have a few beers and kick back.”
Dom added, “In between training camps, that's what I like to do just relax and be a human being. When I’m in camp, there’s so much focus and tenacity at all times, it’s nice to head home and have some relax time.”
Cruz got his start in regional promotions like Rage in the Cage. His first steps in this sport were mired in a reality that many young fighters must accept to reach the next level. All of MMA is better today for him sticking it out through tough times as a young fighter.
“I wasn't fighting in Rage In the Cage for the money. I was fighting because I love to fight but you can only do that for so long. When I first got started I pretty much paid money to fight. I had to pay for my own medicals and whatever may have taken place.”
Cruz described how he had to make the transition as a hungry, localized fighter to branching out to grow as an athlete and a person. His sacrifices were many, but the rewards made it worth it without a doubt.
“I always try to say, I've been Tucson built and San Diego made. What that means is everything in my brain and my mentality, like never quitting and making it through tough hard times, was instilled in me through Tucson.”
Cruz added, “Then I took that mentality and those mind sets out with me to branch out to San Diego. Then I had to learn the technique I needed to become a good fighter and not just all heart.”
Dom talked about the necessary sacrifice to chase his destiny. “That was something I had to take a big step to do. I left my whole family all my friends, all of my comforts, I left it behind just to follow a dream and follow my heart and do something I love to do. God willing, it all worked out.”
The WEC recently held a contest that offered an opportunity for the WEC to come to fight fans' home areas. The Hometown Takedown contest had Phoenix, AZ high in the running for places that might see the promotion come to town.
On the night of Dom’s first title defense against Joseph Benavidez, the winning city will be announced. He relishes the idea of competing near his family and friends.
“That would be dope. I’m pumped for that opportunity. I would love to get everyone in Tucson out to support me. Tucson doesn't get enough love. Phoenix gets a lot, and Tucson doesn't get enough.”
The champ added, “We’ve got a lot of fighters coming out of there that are tough as nails. That's what people don't understand, you have to have a different brain to do something with yourself coming out of there with that heat. I'm happy to be a part of that and I hope that we win there.”
Cruz was very clear to point that even though he has made his way up the ladder by branching out that his heart and his roots will always be found in the place he called home for so long.
“I fight for not just me, I fight for where I grew up. I came from Tucson, I’ll never forget that. San Diego is definitely where I rep, that's where I call home now, I've been here about four years and I love it but I’ll never forget where I came from, I’ll never forget. Tucson is where everything started for me and that is where my heart is for sure.”
In closing the champ had a message for all his family, friends, and fans in the Old Pueblo.
“All I can say is I come from Tucson, I grew up there. I'm trying to go out there and rep it the best I can. I had to come here to San Diego to open up and spread my wings to get the notoriety I could so I could put Tucson on the map with that. Just give me some love so I can go on and win and rep Tucson. I'm just excited for all the things I’ve got coming. All of my people out there, thank you for the support.”
All in all, this young man, this champion, is a fine representative of the good that can come from a strong upbringing in a tough town like Tucson, AZ. Not all environments are created equal, and to know such a prestigious, talented, and humble warrior could be forged in the heat of the local desert is quite an inspiration to up and coming fighters that have seen his career take off.
Many of the gyms that helped mold him, many of the coaches and training partners that helped grow him are still roaming local mats working with a new generation of fighters. Dom has even personally helped train future fighters like Nate Vorel of Boxing Inc. in Tucson.
Dom Cruz may be the most successful fighter to ever come out of Tucson, but he wont be the last that fight fans will see.
His story is strong motivation and inspiration for many local fighters who can clearly see what a strong head on their shoulders, some dedication, and a lot of hard work can bring for their aspirations in this sport.
Dominick Cruz truly is a home town hero to both fight fans and up and coming athletes. He represents them all well through his actions both as a man and a champion.
This article originally featured at Hurtsbad.com