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Dominick Cruz begins sparring, timetable for return in the '2-4 month' range

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

While the UFC bantamweight division was completely turned upside down on Saturday night when T.J. Dillashaw dethroned champion Renan Barao, Dominick Cruz -- the weight's original champion -- is once again in the process of making his way back to the Octagon. And this time, his camp hopes, for real.

Cruz's Alliance coach Eric del Fierro told UFC Tonight that "The Dominator" has begun sparring as of this week, doing wrestling and grappling sessions. According to Del Fierro, the sparring went pretty well, even though Cruz's cardio -- which has been his trademark throughout his career -- isn't quite up to snuff yet.

Del Fierro said that building the 28-year old Cruz back up to fight shape was a gradual process, as they don't want to suffer another setback. Cruz, who last fought in October 2011 against Demetrious Johnson in a bantamweight title defense, has gone through the nine circles of hell trying to make his way back to the cage. Since coaching opposite Urijah Faber on The Ultimate Fighter 15, he has undergone two separate ACL procedures. He was scheduled to come back at UFC 169 in February, to fight then interim champion Barao, but suffered a groin tear that tabled him yet again.

In the meantime, the division has undergone many changes. Faber has come and gone as a contender, while his Alpha Male teammate Dillashaw scored one of the biggest upsets in UFC history to bring the title to Sacramento.

One of the questions Cruz has been getting a lot throughout his time of recovery is whether or not he wants to fight for the title when he comes back. When asked by UFC Tonight if he would want that to be the case, Del Fierro said that goal was secondary to just being in shape.

"The issue is not the title, it's training for five rounds," he told Ariel Helwani. "I need to keep Dominick limited so his body can handle the workload. Even if a fight is booked three months from now, he trains hard so I have to limit his training."

One potential name that was suggested to Cruz as a potential opponent for when he does return was Takeya Mizugaki, the Japanese fighter who is coming off an impressive victory at UFC 173 over Francisco Rivera (decision). Del Fierro said that Cruz liked the match-up, but that the UFC is taking it easy with him and waiting to see how his body responds before booking him into another fight.

Asked to speculate how long until Cruz can return to action, Del Fierro estimated in the "two-to-four months from now" range, meaning sometime between late summer and early fall.

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