TORRANCE, Calif. — The bitter rivalry between Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber has spanned almost a decade in two organizations and two weight classes.
Cruz hopes it finally can be put to rest Saturday when they meet for the third time with his bantamweight title on the line at UFC 199 at The Forum.
“I think after I beat him this time, I won’t have to face him again,” Cruz said after open workouts at the UFC Gym on Wednesday afternoon.
Cruz suffered the only loss of his career when Faber submitted him to retain the World Extreme Cagefighting title in 2007.
It was shortly before that fight when the feud began. Faber traces the animosity back to when Cruz signed a series of promotional posters over Faber’s face.
Cruz remembers being annoyed early that year when he first met Faber through UFC veteran Eddie Wineland.
“He just had a smug, arrogant style right from the start, and I just didn’t like him,” Cruz said. “He probably felt the same about me, and it just never really stopped from there.”
Cruz got his revenge in July 2011 when he won a unanimous decision to retain his UFC bantamweight title.
Still, the score wasn’t settled.
The rivals coached opposing teams on a season of “The Ultimate Fighter” and were scheduled for a rematch in 2012, but Cruz was forced to pull out with an injury. He has missed much of the past four years with various ailments, including two ACL surgeries and a torn groin.
Faber, 37, is looking forward to another chance to finally claim the UFC belt that has eluded him throughout his illustrious career.
He sounds like he’s as excited just to get a chance to hit Cruz again.
“Oh, man, it’s joy. I can’t wait,” he said. “I’m sure he feels the same way. I mean we’ve been wanting to punch each other in the face again for a long time and now we’re going to get that opportunity. I feel great, and I hope he’s the most prepared he’s been because I want to take out the best Dominick Cruz regardless of how skinny or fat he looks or whatever. I know the mind is there, and the technique is there, and I’ll be looking to take that head off.”
After beating Faber in July 2011, Cruz beat Demetrious Johnson in October but didn’t fight again until September 2014. Cruz defeated Takeya Mizugaki in his return, only to get hurt again a few weeks later in the gym.
During the course of his time away, Cruz was stripped of the belt. But it didn’t take him long to win it back, as he beat T.J. Dillashaw by split decision in January.
Even though he thinks order has been restored in the division, Cruz, 31, knows his legacy will be at least partly be defined by missing so much time in the prime of his career.
“(Injuries are) officially part of my story now whether I like it or not,” he said. “I’ve been injured a lot. A lot of the most athletic people on earth have been injured. I’m one of them. It’s OK. That’s part of my story, and that’s what has helped me grow past it. Going through that, using it to grow better and evolve and accept it instead of fighting it. I don’t mind answering questions about my injuries, because whether I like it or not, I was out 3½ years due to injuries, so I expect questions.”
The San Diego native hopes his success also will be part of that story. Cruz has won 12 straight fights since the loss to Faber in 2007, and now that he has the belt back around his waist, he has his sights set on the fictional top pound-for-pound spot.
“I always felt like I’ve been in that discussion,” Cruz said. “Even when I was out hurt, I felt like I belonged in the discussion. But I’m a little biased. When it comes down to it, of course I’m going to say I belong there. The truth is, I don’t make those decisions. Somehow everybody else that doesn’t fight does make those decisions. Let them say what they want to say. I know what I believe, and I know what I am.”
He has another chance to show he’s fully healthy and among the world’s best fighters Saturday on a pay-per-view card that includes a middleweight title bout between Michael Bisping and champion Luke Rockhold.
“I’m the champion,” Cruz said. “I’m the best in his division, and I always will be. He’s not going to be able to compete with me. I’m going to put a clinic on him just like I did last time.”
Contact reporter Adam Hill at email@example.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj