ByDan Shapiro, writer at Creators.co
Senior Editor, Champions
Dan Shapiro

UFC champion is a little over two weeks away from his UFC 207 bantamweight title defense against Cody Garbrandt. But, before he steps into the T-Mobile Arena on December 30, the two-time UFC champion is offering words of appreciation towards Garbrandt’s mentor, , who will make his final walk to the Octagon at this weekend’s UFC on FOX 22 event.

“I know that I respect his style and everything he does,” offers Cruz. “I have no ill will for that man, that’s all in the books and done, and I wish the best for him.”

Competing against Faber for the better part of a decade, Cruz has spent nearly 52 minutes inside the cage with “The California Kid.” The two engaged in one of the most contentious rivalries in all of MMA, bridging the gap from the WEC to the UFC, and their antagonistic tête–à–tête paved the way for the lighter weight classes inside the Octagon.

Looking back on their storied feud, which began at featherweight in the , Cruz recalls how fighting Faber provided great chances for himself and his contemporaries at 135 and 145 pounds. A bout against Faber was a big deal for young fighters in the mid aughts, and Cruz himself remembers how he benefitted from the opportunity.

“Because of the way he promotes himself ... a lot of us lighter weight guys were able to fight him and use things he’s done for himself for ourselves,” comments Cruz. “It gave us all somebody to compete against. You gotta have a star. There’s gotta be a star to beat in order for the sport and the division to grow, and he was one of those guys.”

With Faber announcing his retirement ahead of his December 17 bout against Brad Pickett, Cruz sees some benefit for the former WEC featherweight champion’s legion of proteges at .

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Cruz believes that Faber, who has already seen many of his most famous disciples earn UFC title shots: Garbrandt, , , and ; will be an even more valuable asset to young fighters as a coach, mentor, and manager.

“I think you’ll see that team get a little bit better now that he’s not competing any more,” explains Cruz. “He can focus more on his teammates and he has a lot to give to MMA, and he’s given a lot in the early days.”

While Cruz lost their first encounter (it remains the lone defeat of his 11-year professional career), he developed a style that would top Faber’s, and every other bantamweight in mixed martial arts.

Cruz would eventually hoist the UFC bantamweight belt, implementing the signature footwork that has led to 13-straight victories. Crediting his success on an athletic evolution, along with a few patented secrets of the trade, Cruz believes that Faber’s style was the key to his early run in the WEC.

“That style that he used was so successful for him for so long against so many high level opponents early on in the WEC,” adds Cruz. “That says a lot because the style did serve him very well … there’s a lot to be said for that, for the things he’s done, not just for the sport, but especially the lighter weight divisions.”

Urijah Faber faces on Saturday, December 17 at . Dominick Cruz squares off against in the co-main event.

Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber All-Time:

  • Cruz def. Faber via unanimous decision (UFC 199, 6/4/16)
  • Cruz def. Faber via unanimous decision (UFC 132, 7/2/11)
  • Faber def. Cruz via guillotine choke submission (WEC 26, 3/24/07)

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