"Ego," Cruz said Wednesday at a UFC 199 media day in Downtown LA. "I think his ego is too just big for me to handle. I think that's his worst enemy. I don't need to beat Faber, because his ego will always beat him himself."
Cruz will defend his UFC bantamweight title against Faber in the co-main event of UFC 199 on June 4 in Inglewood, Calif. The two have met twice before. Faber beat Cruz in 2007 and Cruz returned the favor in 2011. This is a rivalry that has been brewing for the better part of a decade and the men have no love for each other.
Cruz, the UFC's first-ever bantamweight champion, has his own narrative about what has transpired over the last few years. Cruz was out with multiple leg injuries, fighting just once between 2011 and earlier this year. In that time, Faber was always one of the top contenders at featherweight and bantamweight, but never won the title. When Cruz returned in earnest in January, he defeated Faber's longtime teammate and now rival T.J. Dillashaw by split decision to win back the title he never lost in the Octagon.
When Cruz, 31, breaks down the storyline, he sees it one way: Faber, 36, didn't let himself evolve.
"I said that's why I don't think that he's grown," Cruz said. "It's because of his ego. Your ego, if you're not able to accept the things you haven't done right and look at them and put your ego aside and say, 'You're right, I'm not good at this, this and this,' then you can't grow, you can't build those things. He's unwilling to do so."
Cruz (21-1) sees a gap in mental strength. He says he forged plenty of it while he was out for nearly three years in between defending the title against Demetrious Johnson in 2011 and defeating Takeya Mizugaki in 2014. After the Mizugaki fight, Cruz tore his other ACL. More adversity, but more for "The Dominator" to overcome.
"You have to accept the bad things and make a great thing out of it, because it'll actually turn you into a machine if you can bask in it and enjoy it and take it for what it is and let it make you a stronger person," Cruz.
Faber (33-8), to his credit, has remained at an exceptionally high level into his mid-30s, which is a credit not only to his skills but also his advanced nutrition and training methods. Faber has only lost three times since falling to Cruz in 2011, twice to former bantamweight champion Renan Barao and once in a featherweight fight against Frankie Edgar that had no meaning in the division. In between, Faber has knocked off bantamweight contender after bantamweight contender.
When Dillashaw was the champion, Faber was in line for a title shot on a couple of occasions, but the two did not want to fight each other because they were teammates at Team Alpha Male and Faber, as the patriarch of the gym, recruited Dillashaw there. Things have changed, though, with Dillashaw leaving Alpha Male last year and a divide opening up between the two men.
"Faber didn't touch the belt," Cruz said. "Why? He had plenty of time when I was out. He was scared to face the guy, so I went in there and did it for him."
So here we are again. For the third time, it'll be Cruz vs. Faber. It has rounded into one of the best rivalries in the lighter weight classes in MMA history. And history is what Cruz thinks he'll see -- as in, the same version of Faber that he met for the first time nine years ago.
"I think he's got excuses for every loss he's ever had," Cruz said. "He's been TKO'd three times and still doesn't admit any those losses or being TKO'd. How do you grow from an experience like that if you don't accept the way that you lost by the person that beat you? You can't grow.
"That's his ego talking. He can't admit the fact that he's been beaten, so therefore he won't grow from those experiences, which creates a stationary, stagnant mindset in a sport that you can only grow in otherwise you get passed by."