If UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz returns next February, as he vows to do so, the 28-year-old will have sat out over two years between title defenses. And in all likelihood, he'll be the last UFC titleholder ever afforded that option.
According to UFC President Dana White, promotion officials are establishing a concrete time limit regarding how long a champion can be sidelined before stripping him or her of the belt.
"We have thought about it, and we will do it," White said on Monday. "We're probably going to do that soon."
Cruz defended his title twice in 2011, defeating Urijah Faber and Demetrious Johnson before suffering a torn ACL midway through filming season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter.
Since then Cruz has suffered several setbacks, while Renan Barao has steamrolled through two interim title defenses of his own -- a UFC record. With every passing victory, each one more dominant than the last, it's getting harder for officials to justify the ‘interim' tag on Barao's name.
"This is one of those situations where, Dominick Cruz is a good kid," White said. "He's a great champion. He was supposed to fight Urijah Faber at the end of that season of The Ultimate Fighter. He's a champion, he gets a piece of pay-per-view. That fight was supposed to be on the Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen card, which was a home run for him. It's literally a lottery ticket.
"It's a combination of me feeling really bad for him, and him being such a good person. ... 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."
Regardless, the time has come for UFC officials to make a decision. White has set a deadline of early-2014 for Cruz to return from injury, and for all intents and purposes, it's one Cruz expects to meet.
"He's training," White said. "He is very confident that he's going to be back at the beginning of the year. And I think we've made it pretty clear what's going to happen if he's not."