After handily defeating Renan Barao for a second time on Saturday night, UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw turned his sights directly towards Cruz, calling out the division's former kingpin who last year vacated the belt due to a series of debilitating injuries. Cruz and Dillashaw's styles are often compared -- both rely heavily on unique movement and angles, and a fight between the two is currently one of the most intriguing stylistic match-ups in the sport.
But if Monday was any indication, Cruz is getting sick of hearing those comparisons.
The normally mild-mannered ex-champion pulled zero punches on The MMA Hour, peppering a surprisingly contentious and candid conversation with shots at Dillashaw, including calling Dillashaw "nothing but a wannabe" for imitating certain aspects of Cruz's style. From the outset it was clear there is no love lost between the two rivals, and Cruz's unabridged thoughts can be read below.
On Dillashaw's second victory over Barao
"The sport is evolving and the guys who aren't choosing to evolve with the sport are getting beaten. I never thought Barao was as good as everybody said he was, but I couldn't say that because I've been on the sidelines and Dana White was preaching about him like he was the next Jesus incoming. So you've just kind of got to hear what Dana says and let him say what he wants about people to build the 135-pound division.
"With me gone, let's face it: they needed to build anybody they could in that slot. Barao was the guy who needed to be built because I wasn't there. Then T.J. came up, and he's the guy who's got to be built because I'm not there. That being said, the division has just been trying to strive and build with me gone -- now that I'm coming back, it can get back on it's feet again. That's the truth."
On the comparisons between Dillashaw's style and his own
"I see absolutely no similarities between my fighting style and T.J. Dillashaw's. And the reason I say that is: we do different things. He's switching stances and I'm not. I'm doing something totally different that nobody understands. I don't know if you remember this, but you could watch my fights and listen to the commentary on my fights four years ago. When I was doing things, it was ‘awkward, herky jerky, never seen before.' It was just ‘weird.' I got this ‘weird style that doesn't make sense.' Four years have gone by. People can get a degree in four years, so the game has changed in the last four years. Now you're hearing the commentary about T.J. Dillashaw moving his feet, using feints and switching stances, and instead of being awkward, different, and weird, it's beautiful to everybody else.
"Now, my style is being appreciated. When I go out there, people will see T.J. Dillashaw is nothing but a wannabe, and I look forward to going out there and proving that I'm the best in the world. I'm in an extremely awkward position where, you can only talk so much and only be so confident on the outside ... when you can't go out there and compete. So there's only so much I can really say, you know? I have to sit on my words right now. I have to sit on my hands, because I'm injured. And that's all you ever hear Twitter. ‘Oh yeah, keep talking Dominick as you sit on the sidelines. You're nothing but a hurt individual.' These are the things that people are saying, so this is the way the general public is thinking when I talk.
"That being said, I'm very careful with the words that I choose, because I can't go in there and compete quite yet. T.J. Dillashaw is out there competing, so kudos to him for staying healthy and being able to keep the division rolling. But when I come back, the real fights are going to get started and people are going to see what this division is really capable of with me as the champion."
On the frustration of not being able to disprove those comparisons
"When people make a statement about me, or when people make a comparison, they don't know what they're comparing. Like I said, four years ago when I used this style, nobody knew what it was. I had coaches, I had Joe Rogan, I had all these people saying that I was just awkward and weird. Now it's a style, because T.J. Dillashaw took feints, footwork, and switching stance from the style that I created -- those are the only three things that he took from it -- now it's become something that's respectable.
"So I gotta say, it's a good thing T.J. went out there and kept fighting and kept getting famous and kept winning, because now, when I come back, I have a match. I cleaned out the division four years ago. Cleaned it out. And it hasn't changed. The division really has not changed much. Urijah Faber could have the title right now but he's scared to fight T.J. and get beat by him, so he's just going to stay in the miscellaneous floating area. Then you have (Raphael) Assuncao, who's hurt. So really it's just been Barao and T.J. who are there to fight. I haven't fought those two, but other than that, I've beaten almost everybody else in the division or they've dropped to 125 pounds."
On a potential date for his return
"I'm looking to be back at the New Year, that's my goal. The New Year is my goal. Either that first New Year card or the one before it. If my knee is not feeling good by then, then I'll push it back. But the truth is, I don't need to say an exact date because I have nothing that I need to hold up on. I'm not the champion right now. I'm not in the top-five rankings right now. I don't have anything that people are waiting for to try to take from me, except my fame. So when I come back, the only thing T.J. is looking for is my fame, to bite off of it because nobody believes he's champion right now.
"They think he's good, but they don't believe he's champion, and that's why they couldn't sell the fight in Chicago. The gate was terrible in Chicago with Renan Barao and T.J. Dillashaw. They couldn't sell it. One, they knew that it was a perfect match-up for T.J. Two, they know that T.J. is just using things that I've used to be successful. He admitted that. And three, they knew that was a perfect style match-up for T.J. against Renan Barao to give him another win under his belt. If you look at the wins that T.J. has had, he doesn't know if he's a champion yet. He has to fight me to believe it.
"He only beat Renan Barao. That's the only guy in the top-five he's beaten. He lost to Assuncao -- Assuncao was in the top-five when he lost to him. He lost to John Dodson when John Dodson was in the top-five. He's only beaten Renan Barao. He beat Joe Soto who's now, is he even in the UFC anymore? That's my point. He hasn't fought anybody to be a champion. T.J. Dillashaw still needs to fight somebody as good as me to even believe in himself. He has no clue what he's facing and he has no clue what it is to face a real champion, because he got given an opportunity from me being hurt. Renan was already an interim belt holder, and then he beat the interim belt holder to think he's champion. I don't think so. He's lucky I've been hurt."
On Dillashaw's FOX Sports 1 trash talk
"He can say all of that. That's the same stuff that everybody's said. What does Faber say? ‘He doesn't hit hard, I'm going to beat him up.' He didn't do none of that. What did Scott Jorgensen say? ‘I'm going to outwrestle him, I'm a better D-1 wrestler, he doesn't hit hard, I'm going to cut off the cage and beat him.' What did Joseph Benavidez say? ‘I'm going to switch stances, I throw switch kicks, I'm going to throw high kicks, I'll mix in my wrestling, I've got a good guillotine, I'm going to submit or I'm going to knock him out.' What did Demetrious Johnson say? ‘I'm going to keep him moving backwards, I'm going to cut off the cage, I'm going to switch stances, I'm going to keep moving, I'm going to knock him out, he doesn't hit hard.'
"What is T.J. Dillashaw saying? ‘I hit harder, I'm going to knock him out, he thinks he's champion, he's not.' It's all the same stuff. This guy doesn't even know what he's talking about. He learned the style that he won a championship with by watching me fight. He learned from me. Just like we see kids dunking the basketball with their tongue out, trying to be Michael Jordan, you see T.J. Dillashaw trying to switch stances, trying to look like Dominick Cruz. That's all there is to it. He needs me, to be who he is.
"The bottom line is, I make his career worth anything. I'm the only fight he needs to be worth anything. So he should be thanking me for being out as long as I have, because it's given him the chance to have a spotlight. Otherwise he'd just still be the least of alphas at Team Alpha Fail."