Dominick Cruz: Until Renan Barao fights me, he's not the true champion

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 03: Mixed martial artist Dominick Cruz attends a post-fight party for UFC 132 at Studio 54 inside the MGM Grand Hotel/Casino early July 3, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Studio 54)

One of the things most fighters hate is extended long layoffs in between fights.

Whether it's waiting for the division to sort itself out or simply not being able to find a suitable opponent, sitting on the sidelines is never a fun thing to do, especially if it's an injury keeping you there.

So you can understand UFC bantamweight champion, Dominick Cruz' frustration for having not seen action in nearly a year. The 135-pound kingpin tore his ACL during training in preparation for his trilogy bout with bitter-rival Urijah Faber, putting him on the shelf, keeping him from competing and forcing him into rehab.

Four months removed from the injury, "The Dominator" is still not quite fully healed, but says even though he isn't fighting inside the Octagon, he is involved in daily battles fighting off the frustrations of not being able to compete.

Speaking to UFC.com, Cruz talks about his rehab process, the constant mental battles he goes through of not being able to fight and what he thinks about the current interim UFC Bantamweight Champion, Renan Barao:

"Sometimes being a professional isn't always about giving 100 percent because right now I'm not allowed to give 100 percent. If I tried to go put 100 percent into my training right now, I'd blow my knee out. Right now, being a professional is about staying calm, staying very patient, and letting the process take its course. I feel like a true champion can figure out a way to make due with what he's got, and right now, that's what I'm trying to do. It's frustrating. If anything, that's the one thing you can really get out of this interview. I'm frustrated. I'm ready to train, I'm ready to fight, but I can't. This is for sure the toughest battle I've gone through in my life; no question. My livelihood somewhat depends on my body, and me fighting, me performing, and me practicing, and I'm not able to do that right now. It's a constant mental battle. `Are you doing enough to be the best? Are you doing what you're supposed to be doing?' I know deep down inside that I am, but something in the back of my mind - because I'm an athlete, because I train, because that's what I do and that's what comes natural to me - something in the back of my brain is always telling me, `You should be doing more.' The hardest part of physical therapy isn't the therapy; it's holding back on the things that I'd like to be doing."

A staple at UFC events, Cruz appreciates the love he gets from fans, but says he wants to be able to earn and deserve the praise he gets by doing what he does best and ‘grinding' himself to the bone:

"To be going to these big events and not be training is by far the hardest thing ever. In my mind, what I've been telling myself since Day 1 is that you can go to every event out there and make yourself as famous as possible, but unless you're putting the work in, it's all in vain because none of this continues unless you're training hard and doing what you've got to do to win. In my mind, it's hard for me to go out there and get all this praise, and get these pats on the back when I can't go in there and grind myself to the bone, and make myself feel like I deserve all this recognition. It's hard - that's the mental struggle and that's the battle. I challenge myself everyday so that I can feel like I deserve those pats on the back and that I deserve to be champion, and when I can't go out there and grind myself to the bone, it's a mental battle for me because I judge myself more than anyone else possibly could."

Upon his return, Cruz already has an opponent ready and waiting:

Brazilian phenom and current UFC interim bantamweight champion, Renan Barao.

Barao defeated the aforementioned Faber in the main event of UFC 149 back on July, 21, 2012 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada to claim the title and earn the right to face Cruz to unify the belts. Riding an unprecedented 29-fight win streak, Renan will prove to be a very formidable opponent for Cruz, who has won 19 of his 20 professional bouts.

Cruz had some choice words for Barao, while slipping in a minor jab at former rival Urijah Faber:

"I tip my hat to Barao for a great performance that night, and I take nothing from him, but until he fights me, he's not the true champion. That's just the way it is, and everybody knows that. I'm not taking away from the performance that he had, but that was for the number one contender spot; that wasn't for the championship. He's done a good job to get there, but when he fights me, he'll get to see what it's like to fight for a championship belt. All I can do is sit back and wait - get my knee better, perfect what I'm doing, and stay mentally sharp. Him beating that guy that he beat, it was good for the division. Out with the old, in with the new."

Anyone giving Barao a chance at ending Dominick's reign atop the 135-pound mountain? Will the long layoff affect Cruz' performance upon his return? Or will the champion put aside the ring rust and rise to the occasion and defend his title?

Opinions, please.

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