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Dominick Cruz wants title shot upon return so he can show T.J. Dillashaw 'he never was the best'

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

There will be no getting his feet wet for Dominick Cruz coming off a third ACL surgery, at least if he has his way. Cruz wants a shot at the UFC bantamweight title -- the one he never lost -- in his first fight back from this injury.

"That's really what I want, to go straight after [T.J.] Dillashaw or whoever has the title," Cruz told MMAFighting.com. "I think Dillashaw is gonna have it. I want to fight him and show him that he never was the best, he never was the champ."

Cruz, who was an analyst for FOX Sports during UFC Fight Night: Maia vs. LaFlare on Saturday night, had surgery in January on his left knee. He said he is currently ahead of where he was following his previous two surgeries on his right leg and is targeting a return before the end of 2015. That's not set in stone, of course, but that is Cruz's desire and he doesn't think it's out of the question at all.

"That's the goal and I'm on track for it," Cruz said. "And it is feasible, because other people with ACL injuries like I've sustained have done it in the amount of time that I'm mentioning."

Cruz, 30, returned at UFC 178 last September after nearly three years away to knock out Takeya Mizugaki in just 61 seconds. The victory would have set up a title fight against Dillashaw sometime in early 2015 before Cruz tore his other ACL in December. The Alliance MMA product said the dominant win over Mizugaki gave him peace of mind.

"What you don't know is how you compete with the best guys in the world, the top five in the division," Cruz said. "And you also don't know how you're going to react under those lights, when you see all the people and go through all the media. What I realized is that it's more fun and better than it was before. So I cannot wait to be back."

Cruz (20-1) has not actually lost a fight since falling to Urijah Faber by submission on March 24, 2007 at WEC 26. He owns wins over Faber, Demetrious Johnson, Joseph Benavidez (twice) and Ian McCall. When healthy, he was considered one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world. And he fully expects to retake that rightful distinction when he comes back.

"I know what I'm capable of after my body has been completely broken down and rebuilt and I'm just as good as I ever was, if not better," Cruz said. "So I'm excited to come back and win that title."

Dillashaw defends his title against Renan Barao in the main event of UFC 186 on April 25 in Montreal. Dillashaw won the title from Barao, who was the interim champion and then the undisputed bantamweight champion while Cruz was on the shelf the first time.

Cruz doesn't really care who's holding the belt when he returns. He just hopes and expects to be standing across the Octagon from the champion, potentially before the year is up.

"It's a cakewalk, because I've done it twice now and I know the process and I know where my knee is at now compared to where my other knee was at this time and I'm doing really well," Cruz said.

"I'm not fighting it anymore. I've accepted that my knee is hurt and I need to just wait around until it heals. When it heals, what really gives me peace is that I can go out there and still perform at the highest level against the best in the world."

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