Jose Aldo vs. Ricardo Lamas, Dominick Cruz vs. Renan Barao set for UFC 169

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

A potentially happy ending is finally on the horizon for the long, unfortunate saga of Dominick Cruz.

Cruz, the UFC bantamweight champion who's been sidelined over two years with knee injuries, is expected to make his return when he takes on UFC interim champion Renan Barao in a title unification bout at the co-main event of UFC 169.

UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo will look to make the sixth consecutive defense of his belt against No. 2 ranked contender Ricardo Lamas in the night's main event.

Newsday first reported the news, which was subsequently confirmed by UFC officials.

Cruz (19-1) has been sidelined since October 1, 2011, when he made the second successful defense of his UFC title against now-flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson. Cruz was then selected to coach against Urijah Faber on The Ultimate Fighter Live, but suffered a devastating ACL injury midway through filming the 13-week season.

Cruz underwent several setbacks since that time, eventually leading UFC officials to set a deadline of early-2014 for his return, after which they'd strip him of his belt.

"It's a combination of me feeling really bad for him, and him being such a good person," UFC President Dana White explained earlier this month.

"Do I think we let it play out too long? Maybe. But if I look at who the champion is, then I say no. I feel bad for the kid."

In Cruz's stead, Barao (31-1, 1 NC) has continued to run roughshod over the bantamweight division, ultimately extending his astonishing unbeaten streak to 32 fights with a string of triumphs over top contenders Brad Pickett, Scott Jorgensen, Faber, Michael McDonald, and Eddie Wineland.

The most recent of those victories, a picturesque second-round spinning back kick KO of Wineland, established a new record for UFC interim title defenses (2); after which, Barao proclaimed himself the true UFC champion.

Elsewhere on the card, as expected, Aldo (23-1) and Lamas (13-2) will finally meet after a string of four impressive victories, punctuated by a second-round destruction of Erik Koch in January, minted Lamas as one of the featherweight division's most promising contenders.

Lamas has remained on the sidelines in the time since, while Aldo has added two more names to his hit-list, having outpointed former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar in February then finished a mangled Chan Sung Jung via fourth-round TKO in August.

Aldo is undefeated in his past 16 fights, and combining his WEC and UFC résumé, has emerged victorious in eight straight championship fights, finishing four of them via KO/TKO.

UFC 169 takes place Super Bowl weekend, February 1, 2014, at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ.

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