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Dominick Cruz: Long injury layoff will only 'benefit' Rashad Evans against Ryan Bader

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Ring rust is a term that gets thrown around a lot about fighters coming back from a long layoff. It's not that Dominick Cruz doesn't believe in the concept. It's just that he's not sure if it always applies.

As someone who has plenty of experience with lengthy absences from fighting, Cruz is confident that Rashad Evans will actually gain from not having fought in almost two years. Evans returns to meet Ryan Bader in the co-main event of UFC 192 on Saturday in Houston.

"The time off absolutely will benefit especially a guy like Rashad," Cruz told MMA Fighting this week. "Rashad has got the knowledge, he's got the tools, he's got the ringmanship. He understands all that. That is experience. That he carries in there with him. That doesn't go away. That's the missing link for him that makes it feasible for him to come back at his age and put on a great performance."

Evans, 36, has not fought since beating Chael Sonnen at UFC 167 on Nov. 16, 2013. A few months later, before a planned bout with Daniel Cormier at UFC 170, Evans tore his ACL. He was supposed to return early this year against Alexander Gustafsson, but had a setback.

Cruz, who is working this weekend as an analyst for FOX Sports 1, knows more about being injured and away from fighting than anyone. Before coming back to TKO Takeya Mizugaki in the first round at UFC 178 in September 2014, Cruz had been out for nearly three years. "The Dominator" dealt with two ACL procedures and a serious hamstring injury.

While out, Cruz was stripped of the UFC bantamweight title. He came back to beat Mizugaki and then tore his other ACL three months later before a unification bout with new champion T.J. Dillashaw could be scheduled.

Cruz's experience in the matter tells him that Evans will likely be just fine against Bader, but there are things the former UFC light heavyweight champion will have to watch out for.

"I'd have to say probably the number one thing that's affected after these surgeries is your gas tank, your body chemistry," Cruz said. "It's always a new thing any time you're off for a year or more, it's a new feeling out process for your body. You have to relearn how your body is working because of that lay off. You have to rebuild it."

There's also the fact that this is not exactly a tune-up fight for Evans. Bader is a legitimate title contender -- and someone many thought should have gotten the next shot against champ Daniel Cormier.

"Bader has been on fire, and Bader hasn't always been on fire, that's the thing," Cruz said. "Bader has had an up-and-down career, but you watch him beat a guy like Phil Davis and that truly says something, because Phil is not an easy guy to beat at all. I train with Phil every day. I know how nasty he is."

Cruz, though, expects to see a fresh Evans out there. He is not all that surprised that "Suga" is a slight favorite.

"The way I see it is that Rashad has some time off at an older age, which is probably better for his body," Cruz said. "The older you get, fighting three fights a year, to me, is a lot more difficult. Like I try to explain to everybody. It's not the fight that bothers you. It's these camps. The camps are vicious. People don't even know how vicious these camps are."

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