“Dominick Cruz, I am waiting for you.”
Those were the words translated from UFC Interim Bantamweight Champion Renan Barao after his impressive win over 22 year old prodigy, Michael “Mayday” McDonald. Fans could almost hear Cruz’s teeth grinding over the broadcast.
Barao submitted McDonald with a lightning-quick arm-triangle choke in the fourth round UFC on Fuel TV 7, taking home the “Submission of the Night” bonus for his efforts. The win continued Barao’s incredible run of thirty-one fights without a defeat. The lone loss on Barao’s record comes from his very first foray into a MMA fight.
With the victory over McDonald and his previous win over division poster-boy Urijah Faber, Barao has established himself as the man to beat in the UFC’s 135 pound division during Cruz’s time on the shelf.
Cruz is still healing from the affects of a torn ACL suffered in training during the lead-up to his rematch with Faber. The rehabilitation process was lengthened further when Cruz’s body rejected a replacement ACL from a cadaver, forcing the UFC to give Barao an interim title defense.
The UFC would like nothing better than to place Cruz against Barao ASAP. It is the most marketable match-up they currently have awaiting them on their bantamweight roster. There were rumblings coming out of UFC on Fuel 7 that the promotion would like to make the fight as early as this summer. But of course, this hinges on Cruz’s recovery.
Cruz, for his part, is chomping at the bit to return to action and face Barao. In the Fuel TV post-fight coverage, Cruz gave a summation on why he feels he can defeat Barao and reclaim his status as the only UFC bantamweight fighter wearing gold.
I fight different than everyone else. I’m not going to just stand in front of you, I’m not going to look to counter you. I’m going to mix things up. On top of that, you take away range with angles, that beats range everyday of the week. And I can wrestle — I’m going to wrestle this guy. I’m not just going to stand in front of him and strike all the time. I’m going to mix it up, keep him guessing. Feints ruin the entire game of Barao, in my opinion. And you take away the range by taking away the jab. Those are all things I understand and I’m going to break this down in my head when I have to fight Barao. He’s going to be confused when he gets in there and tries looking for me.
The question remains if Cruz will be the same fighter he was prior to the injury. While we recently saw UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre make a triumphant return from ACL surgery, GSP’s game isn’t based nearly as much on quickness and footwork as Cruz is. Cruz also gives up size to Barao and if Cruz’s knee slows him down, that will alter both his game-plan and his chances for victory significantly.
If Cruz remains on the sidelines, it is possible the winner of this weekend’s fight between Urijah Faber and Ivan Menjivar will step in and fight Barao. But UFC fans and the promotion itself seem to have their eyes firmly trained on a Barao-Cruz unification fight. Perhaps just as important, both of those fighters do as well.