Posted by Danny Acosta
Danny Acosta

Coach Eric Del Fierro occupied the same back office seat Cruz did and recalled to working up the courage to address the severity of Cruz’s injuries.

He told the champion in his stable if he wanted to quit, that’s OK. Most athletes can’t comeback the same from one ACL injury, let alone two, and to top it off, mount such a comeback in combat sports.

Cruz replied, “you’re crazy.”

They never discussed the possibility a return wasn’t possible after that exchange.

“He was good prior to injury,” Del Fierro said. “He’s still good now. That’s never left him. These injuries forced him to realize there’s more to me than this.”

Del Fierro recognized normalcy in the fight process versus Dillashaw because Cruz still gets nervous. He’s only soothed because he knows he belongs there. It’s the place to challenge Dominick Cruz more than it is to beat another fighter. Cruz’s camp respects Faber enough to know he’s not just another fighter, but Del Fierro scored their second fight four rounds to one for his fighter after multiple viewings. He doesn’t expect this trilogy bout to be much different despite approaching the fight with reverent caution.

“Dominick brings out the best in Urijah,” said Del Fierro. “If we listen to any of the odds…we’re not going to be ready for any of that. We know Urijah, as much as he likes to be a good guy, he hates Dominick, and that hate drives him.”

Cruz’s sparring partner, Ronaldo Perez, explained Faber is a gamer that’ll fight hard for five rounds, but his wrestling, submissions and striking power won’t be enough to do anything different than the last fight with Cruz. For Perez’s money, Dillashaw was a tougher fight than Faber, weighed heavier by the impending return. Now Cruz has his timing back and the benefit of consecutive camps.

“He knows what Faber is going to want to do,” Perez said. “So he’ll exploit everything Faber does or doesn’t want to do.”

UFC bantamweight Erik “Goyito” Perez echoes similar sentiments. Two weeks after Cruz beat Dillashaw, he started preparing for Faber so his timing has been sharp. A 100-percent push isn’t enough to keep up with Cruz. It’s 1000 percent or bust.

“Urijah in all his fights I’ve seen, he fights the same, really upright, and it’s possible he’s lost mobility in his legs,” Perez said in Spanish (as translated by the author). “I feel Dominick Cruz is going to dominate him. Urijah might be able to press him in the third, but Dominick is going to tire him out, moving him one way and the other.”

Three title fights with Faber are defining the lower weight classes. Del Fierro concluded the sternest challenges are the ones worth their weight in gold. In that way, Faber fits the bill.

“The thing about titles…we don’t put value on that, even though there is a value to it,” Del Fierro said. “There’s obviously a monetary value. Their sponsorship goes up. Their purses go up, but the challenging part is, I want to fight that guy because that guy scares me. That guy’s tough. Dominick’s done that his whole career.”