This Saturday night (July 2, 2011), two of the most recognizable bantamweights in the world will step into the Octagon to headline UFC 132 as "The Dominator" Dominick Cruz defends his 135-pound strap against Urijah Faber. It will be the first time any sub-155 pound weight class will headline a major UFC event.
Dominick Cruz has been a force at bantamweight ever since making the cut in 2008. The reason he made the cut? A loss to then-featherweight champion Urijah Faber in his WEC debut. Cruz is out for revenge against the only man to ever hand him a loss.
Urijah Faber is still the most popular fighter below lightweight in the world. "The California Kid" carried the WEC to great heights, defending his title against some of the best in the world in some of the best MMA fights of all time. After finally admitting he's too small to compete at 145, he made the cut and he's out to win a new title on Saturday night.
Can Cruz avenge his only career loss against his hated rival? At 32 years old, is "The California Kid" on his last legs? Will this fight possibly live up to all the expectations?
Let's find out:
Record: 17-1 overall, 0-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: Urijah Faber (WEC 26)
How he got here: Dominick Cruz started out as a serviceable featherweight. After starting out his career 9-0, he was given a title shot against champion Urijah Faber in his WEC debut. Unfortunately, Faber quickly caught Cruz in his patented guillotine choke and forced the tap less than 100 seconds into the match.
After the loss, Cruz would make the cut to bantamweight for his next WEC bout and would string together four straight victories in the promotion which would earn him a title shot against then-champion Brian Bowles. Cruz outworked Bowles for two full rounds and forced the champ to call it quits after the second round.
"The Dominator" would successfully defend his title in a rematch against Joseph Benavidez and would go on to absolutely destroy Scott Jorgensen for five consecutive rounds in the final WEC event ever.
The champion broke his hand pretty badly against Jorgensen and after some surgery and a Frankenstein-like scar, he's ready to go and finally fight in his first UFC event ever.
How he gets it done: Cruz has a unique style that is all his own. It includes strange movement, odd angles and constant misdirection. He's about as active as any fighter on the planet when he's in the cage and he never gets tired. His conditioning is the most important thing to him because he believes that's the one thing he can always control no matter what.
What Cruz will want to do against Faber is use his speed advantage. Faber is seven years older than the champion so "The Dominator" will want to get in, strike, and get out before he can get hit with anything significant.
He'll likely try to come in at all kinds of angles, trying to avoid being predictable and continue to pepper Faber with his lead jabs and straight punches.
Something Cruz has also done well is mix in takedowns to keep his opponents on their heels. If Faber gets a little too comfortable in the stand-up, the Alliance MMA fighter should immediately change levels and shoot to take him down. Even if he's unsuccessful, it could at least force Faber to respect the possibility of being put on his back.
Record: 25-4 overall, 1-0 in the UFC
How he got here: Urijah Faber cut his teeth in the Gladiator Challenge and King of the Cage promotions on the local California circuit. After compiling an 11-1 record, he was given a title shot in his WEC debut against champion Cole Escovedo, which he won after a second round corner stoppage.
Faber would defend his title five times over the next two years, becoming the face of the organization in the process during a 12 fight winning streak.
At WEC 36, he would lose his title to Mike Brown after an ill-adviced spinning back elbow attack backfired when he was knocked out in the first round. Faber would earn another shot at Brown and in one of 2009's best fights, he'd continue battling despite breaking both hands early in the match, choosing instead to lunge forward with elbow strikes.
Faber would lose a decision to Brown in the rematch but after choking out top contender and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Raphael Assuncao, he would earn one last shot at the featherweight title against Jose Aldo (who had dethroned Brown) in the WEC's lone pay-per-view card.
Faber would fall short to Aldo in a gritty performance, absorbing some awful leg kicks for five straight rounds which really left a mark. Losing his third consecutive title fight forced "The California Kid" to reevaluate his choice to compete in the featherweight division and he decided to drop down to bantamweight.
Faber has gone 2-0 at 135 pounds including a unanimous decision victory over former bantamweight champ Eddie Wineland at UFC 128 in his debut with the promotion after the WEC-UFC merger. He's set to battle for the bantamweight belt against UFC champion Dominick Cruz on Saturday night.
How he gets it done: Urijah Faber is the type of fighter who isn't afraid to take big risks. That's what made him so popular and it's also what has gotten him in trouble in the cage on occasion.
He's improved his striking defense by leaps and bounds in the last year or so, doing a great job of avoiding getting hit at all by Takeya Mizugaki and Eddie Wineland in his two bantamweight fights.
He'll need to continue to be evasive against Cruz, slip some of his punches and hit "The Dominator" hard before he has a chance to back away.
Faber also has an excellent ground game, winning nearly twice as many fights by submission (13) as by knockout (7). In fact, his last two submissions were against two fighters who'd never been submitted before in their MMA careers.
If he can either put Cruz on his back or reverse a takedown attempt from the champion, he could be in prime position to work his excellent chokes. He caught Cruz before with a guillotine, it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility that he could force the champ to tap again.
Fight "X-Factor:" The "X-Factor" for this fight is the amount that Dominick Cruz has improved since the last time these men met in the cage. Dominick was just a young gun, 21 years old when he got his first shot against Faber's featherweight title.
He was a bit reckless in his first fight with "The California Kid," getting caught in a guillotine choke early in the fight. He's much more patient and composed this time around. His style has changed significantly as well, become much more elusive in his stand-up and his takedown timing is excellent. This is going to be a completely different Dominick Cruz when these two men meet in the cage this time around.
Bottom Line: There's a serious grudge between these two fighters and unlike Rashad Evans vs. Quinton Jackson, these guys are expected to completely let loose in the Octagon. Both fighters have tremendous gas tanks, are active strikes and are aggressive on the ground (especially Faber). This fight looks to be extremely entertaining from start to finish and wherever it goes whether it's the clinch, ground or especially standing. Expect a very high paced bout that should leave the fans begging for more.
Who will come out on top at UFC 132? Let us know in the comments section below!