Dominick Cruz held the UFC Bantamweight title for over three years, clocking in a reign of exactly 1117 days. Perhaps an even more impressive stat is Cruz only defended his title twice, both of which occurred in 2011. The 135-lb fighter had been sidelined since May of 2012 and was hoping to return to the octagon on February 1st to do battle with emerging star and interim champion, Renan Barao. Unfortunately, after being on the shelf for nearly two years with multiple knee surgeries, Cruz suffered yet another setback, this time in the form of a torn groin.
It was announced on ESPN SportsCenter on Monday that Dana White had effectively stripped Cruz of the title and awarded it to Barao, bumping his championship status from interim to undisputed. White also announced that fan favorite Urijah Faber would fill the slot vacated by the injured Cruz. “The California Kid” is taking the fight on only a three week notice and is just coming off an impressive victory over Michael McDonald from December 14th.
While Faber will only have had a 7 week grace period between fights, Barao’s last fight occurred in September, defeating Eddie Wineland with a 2nd round TKO. The added rest, however, might not mean as much with such a short period of time to adapt his fighting strategy from Cruz to Faber. Regardless, Barao hasn’t lost a fight since his MMA in 2005 and defeated Faber in their first encounter for the interim Bantamweight Title at UFC 149.
Faber is riding a four fight winning streak, with his last loss being the same UFC 149 encounter with Barao. Cruz’s latest injury provides Faber the opportunity to capitalize on the momentum he’s built in the past year and find redemption against the 33-1-1 Bantamweight Champion.
Jon Jones is arguably the fastest rising and improving star that the UFC has under its banner. After beginning his UFC career with decision victories over Andre Gusmao and Ultimate Fighter I alum Stephan Bonnar, “Bones” would go on a tear through the UFC Light Heavyweight Division. Jake O’Brien would fall to Jones in two rounds at UFC 100, followed by a hiccup of a disqualification loss to Matt Hamill, which remains the only tarnish on his record. The Hamill fight wasn’t even a loss in the true sense of the word, as Jones was dominating the accomplished wrestler before throwing a “12-6” elbow to the head which had been recently dubbed illegal. Hamill was unable to continue after the blow and thus the fight was called. Jones, however, as respectful and humble as he is skilled, took the loss in stride and promised to work harder for his next fight.
The next contest for Jones was UFC vet Brandon Vera on the UFC debut on the Versus network. All the experience in the world, however, wouldn’t stop Vera’s obrital bone from crushing under the force of a Jones elbow. Bones only let the man last half a round. A short four-and-a-half months later, Jones would make similiar work of Vladimir Matyushenko: Round one, elbows. Jones was drawing quick comparisons to the domination of Anderson Silva in the Middleweight Division with fans speculating that he should earn a title shot to match his rising status. Dana White understood this quite well and chose to refrain from injecting Jones into the title picture too quickly. Instead, White made a point to mention that he would hold off on Jones for another year and see where his progression was then.
Perhaps regarded as the first “true” test of his career, Jones was pitted against the undefeated Ultimate Fighter winner, Ryan Bader, at UFC 126 back in February. Bader had recently defeated the former PRIDE fighter Antonio Rogerio Nogueira by using his superior wrestling techniques and improved striking. Where Bader had dominated with his strength and size in the past, he met his match with an equally strong and incredibly elusive Jon Jones. Jones used Bader’s own game plan against him, controlling Bader’s body and eventually submitting him in the 2nd round.
Dana White at the moment was facing a light heavyweight dilemma. The champion, Shogun Rua, was set to defend the belt against perennial contender and former champion Rashad Evans. Evans, however, was forced to withdraw due to an injury in training. Having seen Jones dominate another title contender, White jumped at the oppurtunity in the post-fight interview and asked Jones if he would take the title shot in March against Shogun. Jones excitedly accepted.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua’s entrance into the UFC wasn’t quite as regarded as that of Jones. A highly toutued acquisition from the purchase of Pride: Fighting Championships, Rua was a top performer than many UFC fans were excited to see finally compete in the States. With victories in Pride over such fighters as “Rampage” Jackson, Alistair Overeem and the aforementioned Nogueira, many fans were expecting a light heavyweight title shot rather quickly. Instead, Shogun was given a fight with Ultimate Fighter I winner Forrest Griffin at UFC 76. Meant to be a “test” fight, Rua went from title contention to stepping stone as Griffin shocked the MMA world and submitted Rua late in the 3rd round.
As Griffin went on to defeat Rampage Jackson and become the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, Rua found himself removed from the title picture and having to claw his way back up. It would be a little over a year before he would get an oppurtunity to prove himself worthy of the title. To achieve his high status once again, Shogun had to fight his way through two UFC veterans and hall of famers, and he did so in impressive fashion.
Fans would be privileged to see Rua defeat Mark Coleman by TKO at UFC 93. He would make even quicker work of former Light Heavyweight Champion Chuck Liddell, TKO’ing the Iceman in round one of UFC 97. Now back to form, Rua was awarded a title shot against Champion Lyoto Machida at UFC 104. It was a long 25 months since the defeat at the hands of Forrest Griffin. The two waged war for five full rounds, each round closer than the previous. When the dust cleared and the score cards were turned in, a chorus of boos flooded the arena as Lyoto Machida was declared the winner and still champion.
All the work Rua put in would not be lost, though. Dana White realized the severity of the situation and the potential draw of another Machida-Rua contest and decided to book a rematch for the title. Much like his first three UFC fights, Rua’s two against Machida would move in the same progression. Fight one – Go the distance, reach defeat. Fight two – One round, one winner. At UFC 133 on May 8, 2010, Mauricio Rua finally achieved the title that could’ve been his two years prior as he defeated Lyoto Machida by KO midway through the first round.
To perhaps put the Light Heavyweight Title fight tonight in a tag line, you could say it’s “Adversity vs. Domination.” The borderline unstoppable Jon Jones seems heir apparent to the throne. He’s made short work of every fighter he has come across, and done so in absolutely dominating fashion. The most impressive thing to note in Jones’ fights are that he doesn’t simply strike his way to victory, he dominates his opponents physically, imposes his will, and then strikes the death blows while in a superior position. Jones has incredible striking ability, but he wins his fights by using overwhelming ground and pound and forcing his opponents into a defensive position that they can’t escape. He’s quick, powerful, smart, and getting better with each passing day, a hard combination to overcome for any fighter.
Rua’s biggest advantage could be that he is both very experienced and legitimately the toughest opponent yet for Jones. As noted, he’s struggled through his UFC career, having both moments of sheer domination, and moments of catastrophy. What it may boil down to for Rua’s camp is which Shogun comes to fight tonight. While absolutely deserving of the title he currently holds, his wins over aging stars like Mark Coleman and Chuck Liddell seem more foregone conclusion rather than absolute assertion that he is capable of handling a young buck like Jones.
We here at DBB endorse victory of Jon ‘Bones’ Jones.
Urijah Faber Makes UFC Debut
Another draw for the card is the official UFC debut of “The California Kid” Urijah Faber. Faber had been a dominate fighter at 135, and a poster boy for the WEC. Up until the purchase of WEC by Zuffa, it seemed unfortunate that a fighter like Faber wouldn’t have a big league outlet like UFC to compete in. He’s always had all the elements of being a major star to promote: Dominate fighter, great hair, great look – he’s made to be a central figure to promote around. Now, with the absorbing of the WEC promotion, Faber will compete on his first UFC card against Eddie Wineland. The California Kid is carrying some momentum, coming off a first round submission victory over Takeya Mizugaki from back in November. Wineland, by contrast, is barreling through with a freight train, riding a four match winning streak, with most recently a first round knockout via body slam. Faber’s recent losses have only been to the like of elite talent such as Mike Brown and Jose Aldo, so one would assume he could outclass the rising Wineland to victory.
Fights To Watch
Nate Marquardt is still wandering around in the Middleweight title picture. After his 21 second knockout of Damien Maia in 2009, Marquardt was lobbying pretty hard for Anderson Silva’s head, claiming himself the proverbial giant killer. His ability didn’t quite match his hype as Chael Sonnen defeated him by decision to swipe the title shot away from him. Since then, Nate earned a questionable TKO victory over Rousimar Palhares back in September, followed by a coma-inducing split decision loss to Yushin Okami in November. Tonight he faces the 13-4 Dan Miller, who is riding a two-fight win streak. Miller is on the rise, but Marquardt needs to pick up a victory here to even dream of getting back into the Middleweight title picture.
Mirko CroCop takes on Brendan Schaub in a heavyweight bout. Since the Pride merger years ago, CroCop never lived up to the reputation his built himself over in Japan. His last fight was an excurciating romp with Frank Mir, where Mir chose to find a way to out-strike the KO legend to prove a point, rather than possibly finish him quickly on the ground. It’s hard to say whether it’s CroCop’s age that’s slowing him down or his motivation to continue to fight, but either way Brendan Schaub seems a perfect fit as an opponent. The Ultimate Fighter runner-up will either be made a spectacle of, in hopes that the old Mirko will come out to shine, or will pull out a win over the former PRIDE Champion and give himself a small space to stand amongst the heavyweight title contenders.
View the remaining card here: Sherdog.com
We will be live tweeting during the event, so be sure to check us out on twitter @donnybrookboys