In the last nine years, Dominick Cruz (21-1; 4-0 UFC) and Urijah Faber (33-8; 9-4 UFC) each snagged a win against each other. It started in the WEC back in 2007 during the lower weight class’ initial introduction to major audiences. Cruz evened the score in the first bantamweight fight to headline a UFC pay-per-view at UFC 132 in July 2011. He scored a unanimous decision. Their trilogy will conclude in the co-main event at UFC 199 from the Forum in Los Angeles, California this Saturday for the UFC’s bantamweight championship.
A major point of contention ahead of the third Cruz versus Faber contest is how they’ve spent their time since the second fight. Faber has leaned on the fact he’s been on the front lines against the entire bantamweight division while Cruz was away.
Cruz was indeed sidelined, but pulled together enough to regain his championship, and he affirmed that’s evidence that time off didn’t hurt. It didn’t rob him of anything because it was spent wisely.
Cruz matured through his later 20s, already a four-time world champion with wins against pound-for-pound greats like Faber and Demetrious Johnson. It allowed him to develop an identity beyond fighting -- a powerful tool since he’s reentered the bantamweight division’s elite competitive fray. He’s hit the sport’s worst depression and defeated it.
“When people retire in sports, a lot of them hit a depression,” Cruz told Champions.co. “They don’t know what to do with their life. Some of them leave the sport and they try to come back six years later, old and decrepit and don’t look right. It’s because they don’t know what to do without fighting in the first place when they’re done. It’s like they hit 38 years old, they’ll say, ‘I retire, I’m done.’ When they retire, they realize, ‘I have no persona. I have nothing else. All I know is what people knew me for in the past.’ I’ve gone through that.”
Having to “rewrite the book” again, Cruz learned to acknowledge his setbacks like a gift. They are a gift that brought him to his current crossing, another opportunity to confirm he’s the best bantamweight to ever mix it up, opposite Faber, who believes he has a just claim to that title too.
“It’s not something I deserve,” Cruz said of the championship. “It’s not something anyone deserves. It’s something you earn. It’s something you’re blessed to have. Not a lot of guys know that until you’re done with it. I’ve had the blessing of being done with it and then getting it back. I look at it like in a completely different manner than I did before in that time.”
Cruz admitted he gave it up. He left fighting’s mentality behind him and decided he’d live life without being a combat sports athlete. There was literally nothing Cruz could do because his body kept breaking down on him. All his physical focus had no place. His saving grace was dedicating himself to a mental evolution.
Cruz hasn’t had back-to-back training camps since defending his title in 2011. A third fight with Faber represents his first title defense during his second run and his first back-to-back training camps in five years. It’s a perfect platform to express what he learned from the highs and lows on his title journey.
“I feel like I earned a degree in my mind, in a different focus, different, spiritually, mentally, battling depression over that time, battling my own demons inside that I never had to deal with before because fighting was my drug to run from my demons,” Cruz said. “I didn’t have that drug anymore.”
Cruz had been addicted to winning because it’s the most potent drug in sports. Although, he shed that addiction by the time he reached the title fight to reclaim his gold. It became more about the process. So much so that when he fought for the bantamweight championship he never lost to Dillashaw, he uncharacteristically believed it didn’t matter which way the decision went. He took home a split, setting up the money trilogy bout with Faber injury left on the table starting in 2012.
“I put every ounce of myself into that fight,” Cruz said of fighting Dillashaw. “I never quit. I never laid down. I never stopped. I never stopped working. I was very proud of myself before they even dealt the cards out, before they even told me I won that fight. It was a different purpose going into that fight. I was challenging myself. I was doing something that was bigger than me, showing people they can do something bigger than themselves too if they really wanted to. I was happy with myself and there was nothing any judge could have done to tell me otherwise on that night.”