Dominick Cruz is no stranger to the nasty vernacular of the fight game. After all, for much of the past four years there's been plenty of halfwits on social media ready to remind Cruz about his injuries or his precipitous fall from UFC bantamweight champion to sideline fixture. Cruz has stayed largely silent during the process, but that doesn't mean he's lost his edge.
After hearing Duane Ludwig predict a two-round knockout win for his protégé, current UFC champion T.J. Dillashaw, in a potential match-up against Cruz, "The Dominator" minced no words with his scathing response Monday on The MMA Hour.
"It doesn't mean anything," a heated Cruz said. "Because Duane Ludwig is the same guy who told (Joseph) Benavidez, ‘just keep going forward on Demetrious Johnson. He doesn't sit down on his punches, he can't knock you out.'
"What happened to Benavidez? He got knocked out, and that's because Duane Ludwig told him ‘don't worry about Demetrious Johnson knocking you out, just go forward, he doesn't hit hard.' Duane Ludwig could learn something from me. I could be Duane Ludwig's coach. Straight up. And so could (Alliance MMA head trainer) Eric del Fierro."
Cruz is currently rehabilitating an ACL tear in his right knee. The injury, which he suffered in late-2014, was the fourth major injury he suffered since 2011. Cruz initially tore his left ACL twice, then torn his quad, the last of which sunk a proposed match-up against then-interim champion Renan Barao and prompted the UFC to strip Cruz of his long-held bantamweight title.
Cruz eventually returned with a stunning 61-second masterpiece over Takeya Mizugaki at UFC 178, but once again injuries derailed him before he could mount a challenge for the UFC title.
This time around, though, the sidelines have done little to slow Cruz's momentum. Interest in a fight against Dillashaw hit a new high Saturday night after Dillashaw dominated Barao for second straight time at UFC on FOX 16. Now Cruz is aiming to come back healthy at the end of the year or in early 2016, and when asked whether he'd prefer another warm-up fight before being given Dillashaw, Cruz was definitive in his reply.
"This one has been nine months," he said. "That's nothing compared to three years. This would be a cakewalk compared to what I went through before. I eat ACL surgeries for breakfast, man. This is nothing. I'm coming back strong as ever, looking just as sharp as I did against Mizugaki, and I'll be winning my belt back. And when I win it, it's not going to be for me anymore. It's going to be for everybody who thinks that people are counting them out. That win is going to be for everybody who says you can't something.
"Just believe that you can do it, and that all everybody else says is just a bunch of crap. Duane Ludwig is talking a bunch of nonsense about knocking me out. He doesn't know anything. Have you heard him in an interview? He's stuttering the whole time. The guy has been hit in his head too much already. The bottom line is, these guys don't understand what I bring to the table. They don't understand the style I bring. They don't understand any of it. They think they do, but everything is a trap. I'm going to trap T.J. and he's going to get slept."
Out of all the possible options, a fight between Cruz and Dillashaw is one of the most interesting stylistic pairings the UFC can put on with its current roster. The bantamweights are considered to be two of the best tacticians in the sport, with both utilizing unorthodox movement and angles to befuddle their unsuspecting foes.
Dillashaw, though, is a late-comer to the style, having adapted it under the tutelage of Ludwig during the latter's brief tenure at Team Alpha Male. Ludwig has since moved on to open his own gym in Denver, but he has remained Dillashaw's head coach -- much to the amusement of Cruz, whose long-standing feud with Team Alpha Male dates back to his early battles against Urijah Faber and Benavidez.
"The smartest thing T.J. Dillashaw ever did was leave Team Alpha Male," Cruz said. "Because he's not going to be able to do nothing with those guys. Ludwig already said that. He already told Alpha Male that. They got all sad and started crying about it on Twitter, but I see the same thing that Duane Ludwig does, and that's what T.J. Dillashaw sees also, and that's why he's not at Alpha Male training anymore. He's up in Colorado."
While nothing can be finalized until Cruz is healthy, Dillashaw already wasted little time calling out the 29-year-old ex-champion. On the UFC on FOX 16 post-fight show, Dillashaw said he'd like to fight Cruz next, but also wondered aloud whether Cruz will be able to stay healthy long enough to complete the match.
To that end, Cruz can only try and keep an optimistic outlook towards the future.
"I can't control that. At all," Cruz said. "I'm working as hard as I can to be a world champion and I'm doing everything I can to make that happen.
"I'm training as safe as I can and I'm doing everything that I can. So that's all that I'm going to continue to do. I will get in there healthy, and the bottom line is, I always follow through with my word. If there's anything you can look back at throughout my career, it's when I say something, I do it. So keep a look out, because I'm going to school T.J. Dillashaw and he's going to stay No. 2."