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Dominick Cruz won't ask for an immediate title shot, but he still believes he's the best 135er in the world

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Former UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz has largely been silent since early February, when his already long journey back to full health took yet another hit. UFC 169 was less than a month away when Cruz suffered his latest injury, a setback which ultimately forced him to withdraw from his title unification bout against Renan Barao, only to be replaced by, of all people, his rival Urijah Faber.

It marked another undeniably frustrating moment in a three-year period full of them. Stuck on the sidelines, Cruz had to first overcome surgery for a torn ACL in 2012, then overcome a second surgery for a majority of 2013 after his body rejected the initial cadaver ligament.

Cruz is now four months into his latest rehabilitation, and while he's optimistic about his progress thus far, as well as the fact that he'll fight before the end of 2014, this time around he's steadfastly avoiding pinning his hopes to any date or timetable that might rush him back into action before he's truly ready.

"The reason why I haven't given an exact date yet is because I'm trying to piece my body together," Cruz told "I haven't been able to kick due to this quad injury and that's been the biggest holdback, is kicking. I'm boxing, I'm doing jiu-jitsu, I'm drilling wrestling, but I'm not going all-out in the wrestling and I'm not kicking all out yet.

"The reason is, you've got to rebuild those muscles because it's a quad injury. It shuts the muscles down when you tear something off the bone like that, and you have to re-wake them up. Unfortunately that's a process that takes time. It's not a broken bone where the bone mends back together and it's healed and it's strong. A tendon or a muscle, it's always flexible, always pliable, and it takes time to re-adhere to the bone, and the second you try to rush it, it re-rips right off the bone and you're set back another two or three months. So the idea is for me to come back and stay back, not to come back for one fight and be hurt again forever. I'm trying to get my body 100-percent through and through, like when I started this sport, and it's coming together and I'm feeling stronger. And I will be back this year."

While the injury that forced Cruz out of UFC 169 was initially reported to be a groin injury, the resolute 29-year-old says that description wasn't altogether accurate.

"It was stated that it was a groin injury because it it's a confusing injury," Cruz explained. "The quad tore off in the groin area. The quad tore off, basically right by my groin, off my pelvis. So it's like a groin injury, but not. It was just real nasty, man. It wasn't fun. I was basically at 50-percent of what I could've been. I had one leg, couldn't explode off of it, my leg would give out, because you know, you had no quad connected, so you lose a lot there.

"Unfortunately it was a bad enough injury that I had to pull out. I've had so many injuries all through my entire career that I've been able to fight with, and I don't know why, but lately I've just been getting these injuries that aren't feasible to fight with. They're literally mechanical problems and my body will not work."

The bantamweight division continues to press on while Cruz rehabilitates his wounded body, as Barao is now scheduled to fight another Team Alpha Male product, T.J. Dillashaw, later this month at UFC 173. If the Brazilian emerges victorious, it would be his fourth successive title defense since he captured the interim title in 2012, and would further cement his claim as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world.

In late April, UFC President Dana White told reporters in Orlando that UFC matchmakers would award Cruz an immediate title shot against Barao (or Dillashaw) if the former champion requested one upon his return. Although White also advised against it, stating that if it were him in Cruz's place, after nearly three years on the sidelines, he'd ask for a tune-up fight before jumping back in with the sharks of the division.

Cruz, however, is simply willing to let the chips fall where they may.

"I never chose my fights in any part of my career, and even when I was going for the title fights (at UFC 169), that was because I was a titleholder," Cruz said. "I felt that, being a titleholder, why would I ever, ever take a step back and not fight for the title? Even if, let's say I was to go in there and just get mopped up (against Barao), that was the place that I was in. That was where I deserved to be, that title shot. I don't believe I would've gotten mopped up and I believe, still, in my heart, that I'm the best 135-pounder in the world when I can get back to full health. But I've never chosen my fights, and I'm not going to start now.

"Whatever they give me, I'm going to do. Things are going to fall into place. I'll be right back in the position as long as I deserve it, and I'll work my way through however I need to. I'm not stressing about it because my first love is fighting, and if I need to fight, I don't care who I gotta fight. I just can't wait to get back in there, to be honest."

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