When Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber step inside the Octagon this Saturday night (July 2) in a bantamweight rematch of their 2007 bout, they're fighting for more than just redemption (in Cruz's case) and relevance (in Faber's case).
In fact, their fight isn't even entirely about the 135-pound title.
"The Dominator" and "The California Kid" are fighting for all the little guys out there; the bantamweights, the featherweights and even the soon-to-debut flyweights.
It seems they rarely get a fair shake in the realm of combat sports. Casual fans would much rather see two powerful goliaths slugging it out than two guys that weigh less than the average woman.
UFC 132: "Cruz vs. Faber 2" is only a couple of days away and with it, the first World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) crossover main event. The now-defunct promotion was home to many a great fighters at 155-pounds (and under) during its time and now they get the chance to shine on the grandest stage of them all.
We'll take a look back at Faber's submission victory over Cruz at WEC 26 and also what this bout could mean for the lighter weight classes in the UFC.
When the WEC opened its door in 2001, it didn't take long for the promotion to adopt smaller weight classes. As early as their second event, the now-defunct company was hosting featherweight bouts and crowned the weight class' first champion at WEC 5.
Cole Escovedo holds the honor of being the first 145-pound champion in the promotion's history and also defended it once. His second defense didn't end so well for the "Apache Kid."
He faced off against a fellow Californian by the name of Urijah Faber. Faber was the current King of the Cage (KOTC) top dog and former Gladiator Challenge champ (GC) when he made his WEC debut.
He walked away that night as a dual-promotion champion.
Three and a half months later, he would regain the GC strap to make himself the champion across three different companies. Not too shabby for a 27-year old kid less than three years in the game.
When Zuffa, the parent company of the UFC, bought the WEC, he was forced to vacate his other two titles. But for Faber, it wasn't a big deal since he was about to become the company's poster boy.
A successful title defense at Zuffa's first show (WEC 25) put him in line for a bout with a young up-and-comer named Dominick Cruz.
"The Dominator" cut his teeth in his home state of Arizona fighting for the Rage in the Cage promotion before heading west to California. There, he continued his undefeated streak in Total Combat which is where he caught the eye of the WEC brass.
They signed the 9-0 youngster to a contract and placed him inside the cage with "The California Kid."
Let's take a look at their fight.
They meet in the center and Faber immediately throws a head kick and a looping hook that are blocked. Both fighters are swinging quickly but with sniper-like accuracy.
"The Dominator" lands a kick to the champ's skull that doesn't land entirely flush while Faber answers back with a punch. It seems the challenger doesn't seem to be afraid to stand and trade with "The California Kid."
Another solid shot from the champ connects and Cruz wraps him up for a takedown. But Faber grabs hold of his opponent's neck and despite "The Dominator" being in side mount, he still finds himself in trouble.
As Faber's hands begin to slide closer and closer together, he also begins to wiggle his left leg underneath Cruz's body so when the submission is finally sunk in, he's in full guard, a position much more apt to finishing the choke.
The challenger immediately tries to get out of this predicament but the champ remains calm and gets the sweep, landing in Cruz's full guard, with his arm tightly wrapped around the Mexican-American's neck like an anaconda.
Squeeze, gurgle, tap.
For Faber, it was just the second of what would be five title defenses in the two-year period he had a stranglehold on the featherweight division.
For Cruz, it was a wake-up call.
Despite having spent some time at 145-pounds, he made the cut down to bantamweight shortly after his loss to Faber.
On the same night that "The California Kid" made his final successful featherweight title defense, Cruz made his 135-pound debut by beating Charlie Valencia and that's also when their careers began to take opposite trajectories.
"The Dominator" rattled off four more wins culminating with a technical knockout (TKO) victory over then-champion Brian Bowles to become the new WEC bantamweight champion.
Faber dropped three of his next five including getting knocked out by Mike Brown and having his leg brutalized by Jose Aldo. The loss to the Brazilian -- much like Cruz's loss to Faber -- prompted him to a drop to 135-pounds.
And while the Arizona native has successful defenses under his belt, Faber also has two wins in his new weight class -- a scary submission victory over Takeya Mizugaki and a decision "W" over former champ Eddie Wineland.
Now their paths cross again.
Up until 2008, there was only one UFC pay-per-view (PPV) that was headlined by lightweights -- all the way back at UFC 35 when Jens Pulver defended his title against BJ Penn.
That fight was a classic and it helped sway the opinion that lighter weight fighters could be just as exciting and enthralling as their heavyweight counterparts.
The division just needed a face, a star to hitch its wagon to and "The Prodigy" eventually became just that. The Hawaiian put the 155-pound division on his back and put it near the forefront of the UFC.
Cruz and Faber have their own chance now for the newly adopted weight classes. While Jose Aldo and Mark Hominick's clash at UFC 129: "St. Pierre vs. Shields" introduced fans to the upper echelon of featherweights, Saturday's bantamweight title match is the headliner.
The entire evening will culminate in that fight and a disappointing bout will only reinforce stereotypes that the casual fans have about smaller fighters.
But a barn burner? An amazing back-and-forth battle between two top ranked 135-pounders?
That could be a game changer.