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Dominick Cruz out for another 12 months after second surgery

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz could miss another 12 months after a second major knee operation last week, according to UFC officials Monday.

The 27-year-old Cruz (19-1) would end up missing more than two years of the prime of his career. The second operation was due to his body rejecting the original cadaver anterior cruciate ligament placed in his left knee in an early June reconstructive surgery. MMA Junkie broke the news about Cruz's second operation earlier Monday.

Cruz last defended his title with a decision win over current flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson on Oct., 1, 2011, in Washington D.C. His next title defense, scheduled against arch-rival Urijah Faber, was delayed until July to help build up the fight with the two working as coaches on season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter.

Cruz suffered the original injury in May while training for the Faber fight. His injury and recovery time caused UFC to pit Faber against Renan Barao to create an interim championship on July 21 which Barao won via decision. It had been talked about that Barao would wait for Cruz to return, as opposed to defending his title, but that was when it was thought Cruz would be ready to return in the spring.

This injury would make it almost a sure thing UFC would be looking at having Barao (29-1, 1 no contest) defend his interim belt as soon as possible. Michael McDonald (15-1), who is recovering from a hand injury, would be the most likely opponent since McDonald was the first person asked to face Faber for the interim title before injuring his hand in training the day he had agreed to take the fight.

Cruz is expected to stay visible during his absence from the cage, working as an analyst before and after shows.

With the timing of his return looking like the end of 2013 at the earliest, there would probably be one more interim bantamweight title defense next year. This adds significance to two fights in the upcoming weeks - Saturday's Mike Easton (13-1) vs. Raphael Assuncao (18-4) match in Seattle that will air on the FX prelims and a Dec. 29 fight with Brad Pickett (22-6) vs. Eddie Wineland (19-8-1). Most likely, the second contender during the year would be the winner of one of those two fights.