A knee injury may have knocked Dominick Cruz out of his scheduled July 7 title defense, but his team on TUF Live hopes it doesn't knock him off the show.
Cruz's injury happened late last week, and on Monday, after getting an official diagnosis of a torn ACL, he passed along the news to his team. According to Team Cruz's James Vick, the UFC bantamweight champ was "clearly a little sad and depressed" in making the announcement, but ultimately positive, promising to return to his championship form.
But as far as his involvement on the show, that remains up in the air. The UFC has yet to announce if Cruz will finish out the season or be replaced, as has happened in the case of injured coaches in year past.
To the fighters under his watch, there's no move necessary.
"I'll tell you what, they're going to have eight guys who are pretty upset if they try to change our coach," said Justin Lawrence, who has quickly become the season favorite with a pair of knockouts thus far. "It's already been nine weeks, we've kind of made a bond with the coaching staff already, and they're kind of like family.
"We were very bummed when we heard about his knee," he continued. "He kind of felt like he let us down, and that's not the case at all. Being a high-level athlete like that, stuff is going to happen. The way that guy trains is just incredible. I'm surprised his body is still alive with the grinding he puts his body through.
Vick said he could identify with Cruz, having gone through a pair of surgeries for injuries, saying that as an athlete, it is "the most depressing time of your life."
"As far as him staying and coaching, there's no way we want anybody else but him," he said. "He's been here for 10 weeks now and he's a great coach, it's a great coaching staff. We're getting close to him like family almost, and there's no way that I would want anybody else but him to coach us."
Vick, who will be facing Joe Proctor on Friday night, said he learned a newer, more intense work ethic from Cruz. When he arrived in Las Vegas, he thought he was training harder than anyone else, but after a few days with Cruz, he said he learned to push to a new level. More than that, he said passing those kinds of mental and physical tests have confirmed his own belief in himself.
For Lawrence, it wasn't necessarily the new workload that comes as his best takeaway, but all the tips and tricks that come from someone with so much big-fight experience, along with the brain trust of his coaching staff.
Lawrence is set to face Michael Chiesa on Friday, and despite the fact that he and his team are unsure of whether Cruz will be in their corner as the team leader, they have their missions set.
"It makes me want to win this tournament even more, for him," Lawrence said. "I really want to put him on my back and get him a 'W' and try to beat Faber."