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Dominick Cruz confident in 2015 return: 'Why can't I come back and be stronger than ever?'

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The majority of notifications on his Twitter might be talking about retirement, but that was never a consideration for Dominick Cruz.

The former UFC bantamweight champion said on a media conference call Tuesday that he is completely confident he will be able to return from a third ACL surgery and he never once thought about hanging up the gloves.

"Why can't I do it?" Cruz said. "Why can't I come back and be stronger than ever? There's no question I can do it, in my mind."

Cruz will have surgery Jan. 15 to repair the ligament in his right knee. He's targeting a return to the UFC in six to nine months, before the end of 2015. "The Dominator" came back from nearly three years away due to injury to finish Takeya Mizugaki by first-round TKO at UFC 178 in September. After that, he was granted a shot at the UFC bantamweight title he had to give up while he was out. Now, it'll have to be put on hold.

Cruz, 29, tore his left ACL in 2012 and needed surgery. The cadaver ACL the doctors used to replace the torn ligament was rejected by his body, so Cruz needed a second operation later that year. Just when he was set to come back against Renan Barao in February 2014, Cruz tore his quad and was out another seven months before beating Mizugaki in September. His last fight before that was a win over Demetrious Johnson on Oct. 1, 2011.

"I truly, truly believe after I get my right knee fixed, it'll be stronger than it was before," Cruz said. "It's basically like getting two brand new knees."

This time, Cruz tore the ACL when he threw a left high kick during sparring on Dec. 9 at his Alliance MMA gym in San Diego. Cruz pivoted on his right leg and felt the knee slide out and pop. He knew then that he was injured, but he didn't get the results back until right before he stepped on a plane to Brazil for UFC media obligations late last week.

Cruz said he immediately felt sick to his stomach when he heard the news. But he vowed to not let it get him down. Cruz doesn't know why the injuries keep piling up for him and he said doctors don't either.

"There's people that are waking up -- God bless them -- but they wake up one day and they have cancer and they didn't expect it," Cruz said. "They can sit there and say, 'Why did this happen to me, there's a million people in the world, but I'm the one who gets cancer?' But what does that really solve to think that way? It doesn't do anything. All it does is stress you out and make you think, 'Woe is me, I'm the only one who's got the problem.' I'm not thinking that way. There are people out there going through so much worse and they need support and they need help."

While some are saying he should quit, Cruz thinks just the opposite. When a reporter on the call used the word "if" about his return, Cruz corrected him. He is adamant that he will be back before long.

"For me to retire, for me to think about stopping and to not put my head down and do the [physical therapy] is absolutely insane to me, because this is what I want to do," Cruz said.

"It's another mountain to climb. I'm fully capable of handling this mountain. I have all the tools, I have the age and I have the mindset to handle this."

Cruz believes he has another five or six years left in the sport. He would be interested in fighting for the title right away after the surgery and rehab process is over, but would understand if the UFC did not want that. Cruz likely would have met T.J. Dillashaw for the belt sometime in the spring before the injury hit.

"The path has been chosen for me," Cruz said. "I can sit here and try to blame myself and say, 'How come everybody else can go through surgery with no problems?' Realistically, the way I get through this is I think about the people out there that have real problems. I still have a job, I'm still promoted by the UFC, I still have a job with FOX, I still can be in the gym and help these guys get better, I can still elevate the sport of mixed martial arts, which is my passion. I can still come back and fight and win."

Cruz said he did get down and fall into a depression during the nearly three-year process to return to the Octagon. There won't be any of that this time, because he saw what he could do when he returned, destroying Mizugaki in 61 seconds. The Japanese fighter had never been handled like that in his career. Cruz expects more of the same late in 2015 and beyond.

"I'm not happy about this by any means, but it's also not going to drop me in a funk," he said. "I'm not going to allow it to stop me."

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