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Renan Barao: Dominick Cruz said he’s returning next February

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Dominick Cruz was last seen inside the UFC Octagon on Oct. 1, 2011 when he defended his UFC bantamweight title against Demetrious Johnson, but he could be returning in the first quarter of 2014.

Cruz flew to Brazil to attend UFC 163 last Saturday and met interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao at the event. According to Barao, Cruz is expecting to fight again next February, following two ACL surgeries.

"We only exchanged a few words because my English isn’t that good," Renan told MMAFighting.com about the meeting with Cruz in Brazil. "He told me he’s returning (to fighting) on February. I was really happy to hear that. I hope he can return so we can finally fight."

Barao is 4-0 since Cruz’s last fight with wins over Brad Pickett, Scott Jorgensen, Urijah Faber and Michael McDonald. He was set to defend his interim belt against Eddie Wineland on June 15, but a foot injury forced him out of the card.

Renan guarantees he is "100 percent healed" from the injury and ready to put his title on the line against Wineland at UFC 165 on Sept. 21.

"My focus now is on Wineland," he said. "He’s a tough dude, has been doing great fights. I’m well-trained and I will set a good strategy to do my best on Sept. 21."