When Dominick Cruz faces Cody Garbrandt at UFC 207, he will be defending not only the UFC’s bantamweight belt but also an almost decade-long unbeaten streak.
Cruz, in fact, has only lost once in his entire pro career and, ranked No.3 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA pound-for-pound rankings, has pretty much secured his spot among MMA’s all-time greats. But his victorious trajectory could have turned out a lot different hadn’t it been for a cancelled event back in 2006.
Two weeks away from a 155-pound title fight for a small Colorado organization, Cruz – then training with Drew Fickett in Tucson, Ariz. – heard not only his fight, but the entire card had been scrapped. The news stung considering that, balancing three jobs and school at the time, Cruz could really have used that money.
That’s when he got an offer.
“I get a call literally the next day from a show that Eric Del Fierro was running called Total Combat at the time,” Cruz told MMAjunkie Radio. “And they said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a guy that pulled out, against this dude named Dave Hisquierdo. We’re not going to lie to you, the guy is good. He just submitted ‘Krazy Horse’ (Charles Bennet), so it’s not like he’s some chump. But we need somebody to replace in this fight, but it’s at 145 pounds, not 155.’”
Cruz, who was then packing on weight for his 155-pound appointment, gave up his lunch at that very moment and managed to make the featherweight limit. He went on to win the promotion’s titles at both 155 and 145 pounds before getting the call to face Urijah Faber for the WEC’s featherweight belt.
It was then that his current head coach, Eric Del Fierro, aware that Cruz had neither a manager nor cornermen, made a suggestion.
“He said, ‘If you don’t have a cornerman and a coach, I’ll coach you,’” Cruz said. “’Just come out to San Diego, and I’ll get you a manager.’ And so he did all of that and it’s been history ever since. That’s when I had my first six-week camp, with Eric Del Fierro right before I faced Faber.”
That would be Cruz’s first and, to this day, only setback. He later went down to the bantamweight division, where he won both the WEC and UFC belts before his well-known struggles with persistent injuries forced him to vacate the latter. Spending four years sidelined seems like a bad break but, as it turns out, it wasn’t the first time Cruz had to deal with adversity in his life.
“I think a lot of people have that issue when your family members get caught up in drugs and whatnot,” Cruz said. “My dad went down that road for most of my life. So he was in and out of my life. I’m not sad about it. I actually thank him still to this day. We actually have a good relationship now, we just don’t talk a lot because we didn’t have our whole lives to build a relationship.
“But I’m thankful that went down because it made me who I am, it made me a tough, tough dude. Yeah, he wasn’t around, but that’s OK. He made me stronger.”
His strength, Cruz says, also stems from his mother and grandmother – the two “tough” women to who raised his family and to whom he credits his no-excuses approach to his training and his relationships with himself and others. His mom, he says, could always tell when he was being a “wuss” and that’s a skill that he inherited.
“It paved the way for me to just – no excuses,” Cruz said. “Because there’s no other way than being tough and figuring it out because nobody is going to do it for you.”
Hurdles aside, Cruz has certainly mastered the art of proving doubters wrong. In January, after recovering from yet another knee injury that kept him away from the octagon, Cruz came back to reclaim the UFC’s 135-pound title in a five-round battle against a tough T.J. Dillashaw – and subsequently defended it once.
As he prepares to prove himself once again, this time against a young, hungry knockout artist in “No Love” Garbrandt (22-1 MMA, 5-0 UFC), Cruz (22-1 MMA, 5-0 UFC) says that, more than impressing anyone else, his quest has always been about making himself proud.
“I feel that it’s a gift that I get to go out and have these fights,” Cruz said. “Because 95 percent of the world doesn’t get that opportunity, and doesn’t get that learning experience. That’s something that I’m going to have as an edge over everybody for the rest of my life.
“It’s these experiences that I’m facing. And it’s challenging, and it’s hard, and that’s the purpose of this life, to make the people around you better and to evolve yourself.”
MMAjunkie Radio broadcasts Monday-Friday at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT) live from Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino’s Race & Sports Book. The show, available on SiriusXM Ch. 93, is hosted by “Gorgeous” George Garcia and producer Brian “Goze” Garcia. For more information or to download past episodes, go to www.mmajunkie.com/radio.