Cruz used his patented stick-and-move elusiveness to frustrate the flat-footed Faber in the co-main event of UFC 199 on Saturday night, dancing his way to a unanimous decision win at the Forum. The judges' scores were 50-45, 50-45, and 49-46 in favor of the champion.
Faber came out in the opening round and attempted to turn it into the pace-pushing, scramble-filled style which marked his WEC heyday. And he nearly made it work in what turned out to be the closest round of the fight, putting Cruz on the defensive several times.
Early in the second, though, Cruz floored Faber with a straight right hand. And while Faber was able to get out of danger, from that point on, he never showed the explosiveness he demonstrated in the first.
Cruz settled into his comfortable style from there, working at awkward angels, landing and darting out of range, and making Faber chase him. The only time Cruz came close to a finish was in the fourth, when he dropped Faber again, but Faber managed to cover up and get back to his feet.
Cruz's victory put the cap on a rivalry which took nearly a decade to play out. Faber won the first fight at WEC 26, a successful defense of his WEC featherweight title. He won via first-round submission for the only loss of Cruz's career. Cruz won the second fight, successfully defending the UFC bantamweight title via unanimous decision at UFC 132.
"Nothing surprising, I'm just glad I'm hear," Cruz said. "I had to trust my instincts and stick with my plan, especially when you're facing a guy who has as much confidence in himself as Faber."
The loss makes Faber the first fighter ever to go 0-4 in UFC title fights. Including the WEC era, Faber is 0-6 in title fights since losing the WEC 145-pound belt to Mike Brown in 2008.
"Props to Cruz," said Faber. "He had the perfect fight. I can't say anything."
Cruz (22-1) has now won 12 straight fights since the 2007 loss to Faber, while Faber (33-10) has dropped two of his past three.