With blood dripping from the bridge of his nose as well as an eye and his mouth, Cruz acknowledged afterward that Benavidez had given him everything he could handle.
"I felt the blood pouring down my face," Cruz said. "Benavidez is a great competitor. I give him all the credit in the world."
The fight was a rematch of a bout from a year ago, and that time Cruz used his size advantage and superior takedowns to control the fight. But this time Benavidez was much more active in his striking and did a lot of damage to the champion. In the fourth round Benavidez drilled Cruz with a knee to the nose, opening up a huge cut, and for much of the fight Benavidez was landing clean, effective strikes. It's easy to see why one judge scored the fight 48-47 for Benavidez, but also easy to understand why the other judges scored it 48-47 and 49-46 for Cruz. It was a fight with five close rounds, and a fight that could have gone either way.
But there could be only one winner afterward, and that was Cruz, who has improved his record to 16-1, including two wins over Benavidez. Those two fights are the only losses of Benavidez's career; his record drops to 12-2.
Up next for Cruz will most likely be a title defense against Benavidez's close friend and training partner, Urijah Faber. That's the most marketable fight the WEC can put together right now, both because Faber is the WEC's most popular fighter, and because Faber's victory over Cruz in 2007 was the only loss of Cruz's career.
Although the 135-pounders in the WEC don't get quite as much attention as the fighters in the UFC, Cruz was correct when he said after the fight that he deserves to be considered among the sport's truly elite fighters.
"I rank among the best in the world," Cruz said. "There's not a doubt in my mind."