Former UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz is scheduled for his first three-round fight in over six years later tonight (Sat., Mar. 6, 2021) at UFC 259 live on ESPN+ PPV from inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, as “Dominator” takes on surging contender Casey Kenney.
Cruz, 35, made his return to the Octagon last year at UFC 249 in a bantamweight title fight against then champion Henry Cejudo. The outcome was not what Cruz expected as the former 135-pound king was put away via second-round TKO. It was the second-straight title fight loss for Cruz dating back to his defeat to Cody Garbrandt in 2016.
While Cruz isn’t in the same position he was just a year ago the former champion is confident he can fight his way back to the top. And in a division as open as bantamweight he may not have to win too many fights to get there.
“Anybody’s pretty close to winning that belt in the top-15 in my opinion,” Cruz told reporters earlier this week. “We really are. I’ve fought guys that when I was at the top with the belt, I fought guys that were No. 15 just one year before and they won three fights in a row, and sometimes you can win one or two fights depending on if it’s in a spectacular fashion and get right up to title contention.
“So when you look at rankings, if I’m being perfectly honest rankings have to do with the money you’re paid more than where you’re actually legitimized. So what is a ranking to a fighter?”
Cruz, who remains one of the biggest draws at 135 pounds, is preparing to face an unranked opponent in Casey Kenney. It’s something Cruz has never done before throughout his 10-year UFC career, but “Dominator” doesn’t believe Kenney is really getting the recognition he deserves.
“Like I said about the rankings, it’s about pay,” Cruz said. “If [Kenney] were getting paid more, he’d be ranked. Facts. That’s a fact.”
“To me, Casey Kenney is one of the best in the world,” added Cruz. “He’s well-rounded, he’s a black belt in judo, he comes from a grappling background. He trains with John Crouch out in Arizona. He started with his grappling, then added the judo and stuck with it. As he’s improved, he’s on a three-fight win streak and his striking has been improving too.
“He just beat Nathaniel Wood, who has a good striking base first, so coming from a grappling background and beating a striker he’s improving on that aspect as well.”
While Cruz holds considerable value in the UFC’s expanding bantamweight division he also understands that he isn’t going to get a title fight every time around. His last opportunity against Cejudo came after Cruz was sidelined for over three years. “Dominator” was lucky to be put in that position and is simply looking to do what he need to do in the eyes of the promotion to get back to the promise land.
“I’ve lost two title fights in a row right now,” Cruz said. “I wasn’t really looking at any specific opponent for any specific thing because when you’re losing it’s kind of like, just get in there, right? Why go too far ahead? So Sean Shelby gave me a guy on a winning streak and am I going to argue with the matchmaker after my last—I got an opportunity in that title fight and it did not get executed the way I wanted. I felt very gifted and honored to get that opportunity to fight for the title.
“So after that gift, just show up, do your job, take the fight that’s given to you, shut up, and go.”
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 259 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 5:15 p.m. ET, followed by the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.