Dominick Cruz: 'I'm fed up with the questions about my time off'

Michael Stets

UFC bantamweight champion Dominck Cruz was in New York City on Wednesday afternoon to promote his UFC 169 title fight against interim champion Renan Barao, that will be taking place in Newark, NJ on Feb. 1, 2014. Cruz spoke to MMAmania about being bothered by the constant questions of his layoff, his match-up against Barao, working with grappling coach Neil Melanson and Dana White's recent comments about him.

Dominick Cruz is fed up with all the same questions he's been asked in regards to his two-year absence from the Octagon. The inquiries about ring rust and his knee rehab have grown tiresome for him to answer. What frustrates the UFC bantamweight champion even more is the fact that he feels no one is discussing what he has accomplished in the sport prior to his knee injury.

"I'm just fed up with the questions about the time off, because it's like, at what point do you think about what I did before I got hurt?" Cruz told MMAmania in between bites of his Ahi tuna at Flatiron Hall in downtown New York City on Wednesday afternoon during the UFC media luncheon. "What did I do before I got hurt? Nobody talks about that. I went on a how many fight winning streak? I cleaned out the division, and the standings are still exactly the same as they were when I left two years ago. How come that isn't being talked about? Only me being out two years is talked about."

The Alliance MMA fighter does make a valid point; his 10-fight winning streak is seldom brought into the conversation when his name is being discussed. But MMA, like any sport is always about present day and "what have you done lately?" UFC President Dana White spoke about Cruz just last week and said he has been "stalling" and he "could've come back much sooner," than the Feb. 1 UFC 169 main event against Renen Barao.

Cruz said he doesn't look at the comments as a negative and that he doesn't think White "meant it that way." It's more or less how the media construes the message, which he feels has a positive underlying tone.

"I think what Dana was saying is I'm ready and my knee isn't an issue any more," Cruz suggested. "I get the same questions Dana gets and the number one question is, ‘is ring rust going to be an issue? You've been out a long time. It's been over two years.

‘By the way Dominick you've been out over two years,'" he continued in a sarcastic tone. "'Hey Dominick, is your knee going to be a problem because you've been out over two years?' So what are you going to say after a while? You're going to say the knee is not an issue-which it isn't, and I'm strong and I'm ready to fight.

"Dana is trying to portray that also, it's the truth. He knows that. We made a date a long time ago. If he wanted me to come back earlier he would've, or he would've stripped me right? It's not like I call the shots. I get why Dana would say that. He's trying to say that it's not an issue. I don't think it was meant to be like Dominick has been laying low for no reason or something."

Cruz explained the extra time wasn't just to recover from the injury, that it was to make sure his knee would make it through the full duration of a fight camp. He explained having to trust in his ability when he was cleared for full range of motion activity, and how having a strong mind helps with a recovery.

"I've challenged myself to the fullest now," he said proudly. "I'm not even thinking about my knee anymore. You have to believe is the thing. A 100 percent of coming back from an injury like this is mental, because your mind moves your body. If you control your mind, your body will move for you."

The 135-pound champ could control his mind and his work ethic to push through physical therapy and rehab sessions, what he couldn't control was all the speculation that went on during his hiatus about whether or not he would be stripped of his belt. He didn't get caught up in the hoopla, he just went "straight to the source," to find the answers and "relieved all the pressure."

"When you come to that crossroad -- that's what it is -- it's a crossroad," Cruz said emphatically. "You go, ‘okay, they are saying they are going to strip me. Everybody is talking. There are rumors and this and that.' So right then and there you have to make a decision. I'm either going to listen to the rumors and everybody else or, I'm going to go straight to the source and see what they think.

"I went and talked to Dana and found out the truth. He told me ‘Yes you have to this date to get your stuff together. We would love to see you. You are our champ. Let's get you in there fighting Renan or whoever the interim champ is.' I said ‘Okay.' Now, if I wouldn't have been back by the day we discussed, then they take the belt, but I'm here and I'm healed, just like we planned."

The conversation moved to the present, and the UFC 169 match-up against interim-bantamweight champion Renan Barao. Cruz was made aware of Barao's comments to MMAmania on having the advantage in the grappling department when they fight.

"I don't blame him for saying that," Cruz said unaffected. "Who has seen me on the ground? Who has held me down? Who has taken me down? So how is that an advantage? How many takedowns does he get average, a fight? Very few. My thing is: he can be as good as he wants to on the ground, but I can make this fight however I want to, considering he has to adjust to me because I dictate the takedowns or not."

Cruz has been very successful has a UFC analyst on UFC Tonight and the pre and post-fight shows while being away from the cage. He is great at breaking down fighting styles and match-ups. While he has done it more being behind the desk as a commentator, he said he "does it naturally, because that's how my brain works."

"Any fighter that wants to say that they are going to do something to me, I promise you I can explain why they are wrong," he boasted. "That's the difference between me and everyone else in the division."

He was then asked to break down Barao's comments on having the advantage if it got to the ground.

"If it got to the ground. Very nice, I like that," he said with a smirk on his face. "First of all, I move my feet more than anyone he has ever fought. I feint, which is something nobody has done to him. Nobody in the division feints with their feet; they feint with their upper body, but not with their feet. Also, I mix it up with kicks and punches. I'm not just boxing. So that adds a different dynamic.

"I also add knees. The footwork alone is enough to keep me from being taken down. Really you have to look at the percentages of how much I've been on my back. If Faber can't take me down and hold me there, who will?"

In case the fight does go to the ground, Cruz will be working with one of the best ground coaches in the game for this fight camp, "The Ground Marshall" Neil Melanson.

"Neil is no joke. He has been in the game along time," Cruz says with excitement. "I love his style of grappling. He doesn't believe in the belts system. He isn't all jiu-jitsu. He is American wrestling mixed with submissions. It's trying to put somebody out with ground and pound or choking them out. His style molds perfectly with our style at Alliance and myself and Mike Chandler and anybody with a very solid wrestling background."

The "Dominator" has been called the "Decisionator" by Urijah Faber, while the two have traded barbs in the past, because it's no secret Cruz has gone to four straight decision victories. His last finish was back at WEC 47 over Brian Bowles, when he won the WEC bantamweight title. Cruz is fine with his style and said if it's a five-round fight he'll "always win."

"That is the way my body works," he said. "I'm built for that style of fight. I would love to be able to fight and knock somebody out in 30 seconds, but I pick people apart methodically and I grind people down until hopefully I get the finish, which I haven't yet. You can't just critique somebody on just finishes, you have to critique somebody on the way that they fight and their abilities."

It has been awhile since anyone has critiqued a Cruz fight, and if he loses to Barao at UFC 169, he will be hearing even more of the same questions he has lost the patience to answer.

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