UFC 249: Cruz Seeks Second Epic Career Comeback Against Cejudo

Dominick Cruz
Dominick Cruz Credit: Joe Harrington/Sherdog.com

After more than three years away, ex-champion Dominick Cruz will look to regain his former title when he faces reigning champion Henry Cejudo in the co-main event of UFC 249.

Dominick Cruz has only fought four times in the last nine years.

No one could have predicted such a turn of events back in 2011 when “The Dominator” was atop the bantamweight division.  After a stellar run that saw him capture WEC gold, he went on to score consecutive UFC victories over legends in Urijah Faber and future flyweight kingpin Demetrious Johnson.  However, a litany of injuries would halt what many believe would have been a historic run.  After defeating Johnson, a torn ACL and later a torn groin would lead to a three year absence.  He would have a successful return, only to tear the ACL in his other knee and be out of action another two years.  Finally, after a successful return in 2016, arm and should injuries have now kept him out of action over three years going into Saturday’s contest.

So, how is Cruz in an immediate title fight despite the circumstances?  It is because the nature of his comebacks have been so impressive that they continue to build his argument as the best bantamweight of all-time.  In 2014 after a three year absence, he throttled Takeya Mizugaki – at the time on a five fight win-streak – in the first round to secure a title shot.  When he returned in 2016 after a two year absence, he notched his greatest career victory by beating TJ Dillashaw in a five round effort to regain the bantamweight title.  The nature of the performances has allowed Cruz to give strength to the notion that had he not been injured, he would have also dispatched the competition seen in the interim.

Of course, the challenge in front of him is a monumental one as “The Messenger” Henry Cejudo is coming off an incredible two year campaign that has seen him both end the twelve fight win-streak of Demetrious Johnson at flyweight, turn back TJ Dillashaw, and claim bantamweight gold with a victory against Marlon Moraes.  A shoulder injury has kept him out of action since last June, but the self-proclaimed “King of Cringe” has stuck his finger in the chest of champions and contenders across three weight classes to keep himself at the forefront of the MMA consciousness.

In a unique situation, it benefits Cejudo if Cruz returns in top form and provides a stern challenge.  To add the former champion to his resume would be a huge feather in the cap of Cejudo if Cruz returns at an elite level.  It would also silence the critics who have called out Cejudo for not taking on surging contenders who have been active such as Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling.  When taking into account the circumstances of UFC 249 taking place in the midst a global pandemic, to make weight and walk away with a victory will be a feat in-and-of itself.

Stylistically, the unorthodox movement of Cruz will pose problems for a counter-striker like Cejudo who is known for a more measured pace.  Cruz should look to get in-and-out and avoid exchanges with the more heavy-handed champion.  Assuming he comes in at the level we last saw him at 2016, Cruz figures to be able to outpoint Cejudo in a 25 minute contest if he can avoid damage.  Cejudo should look to hamper Cruz’s mobility with leg-kicks whenever possible as his best path to victory is to unload with heavy shots in close quarters.  Furthermore, Cejudo should look to get the fight to the ground where he can put his Olympic caliber wrestling to work in holding down Cruz and raining shots from top position.

A victory for Cruz would make him arguably the greatest comeback athlete in mixed martial arts history.  His place in history as one of the best fighters of all-time, not just the lighter weight classes, would be secured.  A victory for Cejudo would add to his own historic run and put pressure on the other contenders of the bantamweight division to make statement in their next outing to secure a title shot.