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Despite past rivalry, Dominick Cruz praises retiring Urijah Faber: ‘I wish him nothing but the best’

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UFC 199 photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

When Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber first fought at WEC 26 in 2007, neither could have known that the rivalry they forged would come to define both men over the next decade as they navigated their way to the highest levels of the sport.

Cruz and Faber ultimately danced two more times, with Cruz winning both follow-up matches inside the UFC Octagon. Yet, together, the two all-time greats unquestionably helped spearhead the rise of the bantamweight division from an overlooked oddity to a legitimate featured player in the fight game.

Alas, the long tale of that rivalry will reach an end on Saturday when Faber competes in his final fight at UFC on FOX 22 in his hometown of Sacramento. Cruz is expected to return to the cage just 13 days later at UFC 207 — coincidentally against a protégé of Faber’s, Team Alpha Male product Cody Garbrandt — to defend his UFC bantamweight title.

Considering that Faber just fought for the belt earlier this year, the moment is a stark reminder of how quickly windows can slam shut in MMA. Though when Cruz first heard about Faber’s plans, he admits he wasn’t surprised.

“I think it’s a good thing for him,” Cruz said recently on The MMA Hour. ”Honestly, he’s going to be a great manager. He’s already a great manager. He’s been a great manager to these guys for how long? Dressing them out in Torque. He’s been making money on his team since this thing started while he fought, so finally he’s going to get out of the fight game and just make money wholly on these fighters that he promotes.

“Right now, Cody is the guys that he’s promoting. He’s making the most money off Cody. He’s dressing him out in Torque. He’s got Cody wearing Urijah Faber shirts everywhere he goes, and so it’s a genius move on his part because he’s leaving the sport, he’s still making prize money, but then he’s still managing fighters, so he gets a cut of their purse because he’s got stock in the management company that manages all of these fighters in a lump sum, including himself. So it’s just smart for him. He’s a businessman. That’s what he does. He’s almost a promoter, but he just was fighting so he couldn’t quite do it. If he could run his own show, he would. I think this is a good move for him.”

The relationship between Cruz and Faber has always been a curious one, at times adversarial and at other times amicable. Simply by circumstance of being two of the world’s best, Cruz and Faber were always rarely far from each other’s paths. They shared over 51 minutes of time together in the cage and countless more hours touring on media trips or coaching against one another on The Ultimate Fighter 15.

Both men were champions in the now-defunct WEC and both continued their winning ways in the UFC. And now in retrospect, when Cruz looks back on their many collective accomplishments and the legacy Faber leaves behind, he is proud to have shared the time he did with “The California Kid.”

“To be perfectly honest, the guy started this sport in the lighter weight class,” Cruz said. “When I first started this thing, there was only 155-pounders and up. And because he had a good following in Sacramento, that whole town got behind him, he was able to get people to show up to the shows and be able to make a run for the lighter weight classes. Without him, without a star, an early star in the early days in this sport, the lighter weight classes might not have been made. That’s the truth.

“I was there right next to him, right with him. The difference is, he was bashing me down while he was the star, so I didn’t get the limelight. And that’s okay. That made me who I am today. I’m appreciative for Urijah Faber. I’m appreciative for the rivalry. I’m appreciative for the fights that I have with that man. I’m going to look back in time and be glad that we fought like we did and said the things that we did about each other, and I’m happy for his future. And that whole thing with me and him is completely buried. Like, I couldn’t be happier that chapter of my life is done, and I wish him nothing but the best.

“However, his little stepson, Cody ‘No Love,’ is about to get worked. And that’s something that’s going to affect him. So I’m sorry about that, because I’m going affect his money yet again.”