One of the first things visitors to Alliance Training Center in suburban San Diego see upon entering the prestigious mixed martial arts gym is a trophy case dedicated to the awards and titles earned by the facility’s professional fighters.
One void in the display stands out, though.
The gap is filled by a solitary piece of white paper with a few words jotted down in black marker.
“This space reserved for WEC bantamweight championship belt,” the writing reads.
It’s a subtle reminder to Dominick Cruz of what he is working for when he enters the gym each day.
Cruz will challenge bantamweight champion Brian Bowles for his belt tonight in the main event of a World Extreme Cagefighting card in Columbus, Ohio.
He said the note is the work of his teammates at the gym, a group that includes Ultimate Fighting Championship star Brandon Vera.
“I came in one morning, and it was just sitting there,” Cruz said. “It’s great because it’s kind of a visualization thing. Being the best that you can is a lot of visualizing what you want and what you believe in.
“When I come in every morning and see that, it’s just one step closer to getting that belt and achieving what I’ve been working on this whole time.”
A world championship might even prompt Cruz to start flaunting his success a bit — starting with the purchase of a new mattress.
The 24-year-old says he grew up poor in a trailer in Tucson, Ariz., and hasn’t spent much of the money he has made as a professional fighter.
“I didn’t grow up with much, so I really have learned to live my life with the bare minimums,” said Cruz, who shares a studio apartment in Chula Vista, Calif., with his cats. “Top Ramen and sandwich meat is good for me.”
Cruz said that might change soon.
“I might buy myself a nice TV, and I was going to buy myself a bedroom set,” he said. “I’m kind of tired of sleeping on a (hand-me-down) mattress on the floor.”
The no-frills lifestyle is somewhat similar to the way Cruz has risen to title contention. His WEC debut was a first-round submission loss to Urijah Faber at 145 pounds. But after dropping to 135 after that fight, Cruz has won four straight bouts, all by decision.
Cruz admits he has taken criticism for failing to finish any of his past four opponents, but he maintains confidence in his ability to do so.
“You can’t force finishes. They just happen on their own, you know,” he said. “And I know for a fact I’ve got power in my hands, and I know for a fact I’ve got a lot of skills that I can finish fights (with).”
Bowles, who will be making his first title defense since taking the belt from Miguel Torres in August, said Cruz is more than capable of finishing a fight.
“He’s a boxer-wrestler just like me, so you know we’re going to stand in there and slug it out,” Bowles said. “I’m sure he’s going to be trying to take me down, and we’re trying to take him down, so you know there’s openings everywhere for submissions and knockouts. Anytime you stand up with anybody, you take a risk on catching a big punch.”
WEC 47, which will be televised live at 7 p.m. on Versus (Cable 38), also features Torres’ first bout since losing the belt. He will look to rebound from his first loss in nearly six years when he meets Joseph Benavidez.
“(Losing) was the best thing that could have happened in my career, because it makes me take it to a more professional level,” Torres said. “Guys like Brian, guys like Dominick, guys like Benavidez, these guys raise the bar, and you need that. That competition makes you a better fighter.”
In other matches, former UFC lightweight champ Jens Pulver will meet Javier Vazquez, and LC Davis looks to remain undefeated in the organization when he faces Deividas Taurosevicius.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at email@example.com or 702-224-5509.