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Dominick Cruz eyeing Cody Garbrandt vs. TJ Dillashaw winner: ‘I think that I’ve earned that position’

UFC 207 Media Day
Dominick Cruz is targeting the next available shot at the UFC bantamweight title.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Dominick Cruz has stayed plenty busy in the months since his UFC 207 title loss to Cody Garbrandt, traveling the country in his role as a FOX Sports analyst and even appearing in the UFC broadcast booth as a color announcer during fight nights.

But now, after giving his body a break from the rigors of fight camp, Cruz is beginning to turn his gaze back towards his next move in the UFC bantamweight division. And for the former two-time champion — a man who many consider to be the G.O.A.T. of 135 pounds — a shot at the winner of UFC 213’s showdown between Garbrandt and T.J. Dillashaw is precisely what Cruz covets next.

“I just had to give my body a little rest from the beatdown from martial arts for a couple of months,” Cruz said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I fought those three fights last year. That’s three title fights against some of the best guys in the world, back-to-back, after the layoff I had. That was a good year for me. I put a lot of work in. And so I took a little bit of time, three or four months I’ve taken to just heal. I’ve been training. I shot stem cells into both of my feet, I shot stem cells into my shoulders, just to make sure I take a second and I marinate and heal. Marinate and rest and just let my body get 100 percent.

“I’d like to come back and fight for the title. That’s my goal. I wasn’t completely out of that (Garbrandt) fight come that fifth round. I was still in the fight. I was in the fight the entire time, so I definitely want to get another shot at that, and that’s what I’m looking for and focused on more than anything, is fighting the winner of T.J. Dillashaw (versus) Cody Garbrandt. That’s what I want. I think that’s what the fans want.”

Cruz, 32, reigned for many years as the king of the bantamweight division, capturing the WEC title in 2010 at a time when the blue cage was synonymous with the best lighter weight talent in the world, then transitioning that title over to the UFC with additional victories over Urijah Faber and Demetrious Johnson. Cruz ultimately vacated his strap due to an unforgiving string of injuries that kept him sidelined for nearly five years, however he returned against all odds and recaptured the belt in 2016 with triumphs over Dillashaw and Faber.

So given his many accomplishments in the division, Cruz figures it makes sense for him to get an immediate chance to reclaim what once was his.

“I told (UFC matchmaker) Sean Shelby what I wanted to do,” Cruz said. “Sean Shelby is like, ‘well, I don’t know, I don’t know if that’s necessarily…’ He doesn’t know, he’s saying he doesn’t know. I’m saying this is the fight that needs to happen at 135 pounds. I mean, there’s three people in this division that people know, and it’s me, T.J., and Cody. And the reason why you know us three is because I’ve been fighting these two people and I’ve been talking about them and I’ve been building them on FOX and giving them a lot of shine, and I’ve also been bashing on them, too.

“But the mixture of the entire thing has built the three of us (up), and I think that between the three of us, we could probably fight for 10 years and always have a good fight. But realistically, that’s the fight that makes sense to me. It doesn’t make sense to go down in the division. I’m the No. 1 contender now, and to fight backwards in the division after the amount of title defenses I’ve had in the past, it doesn’t even resonate or make sense to me.

“I’m here to fight the best in the world, to fight for the title, and I think that I’ve earned that position,” Cruz continued. “And if I got completely to where I wasn’t even in that (Garbrandt) fight, I could understand. But I was in that fight from beginning to end, and in that fifth round, I would even say that I won. So there’s still a case for me in this match-up with Cody or T.J., either one of them.”

While Cruz edged out Dillashaw in a razor-thin split decision in Jan. 2016, his end-of-year battle against Garbrandt was a much different story.

Garbrandt defeated Cruz in a masterful performance that included a pair of knockdowns and a 10-8 fourth round on two judges’ scorecards. So while Cruz would be fine with rematching either of his former foes after UFC 213, he carries a special fire in his heart for a second meeting against Garbrandt.

“Realistically, me and T.J.’s fight was very competitive. It was a good fight. I won it fair and square, in my opinion, but I could fight him again and be happy with that,” Cruz said. “But, I lost to Cody. Of course, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to fight him immediately, as soon as possible, and get that loss back.

“I couldn’t go right back into the Octagon immediately, because I needed to heal my feet a little bit. Anybody who’s had this thing that I have, plantar fasciitis, will tell you that it ruins careers. It ruins runners’ careers, it ruins football players’ careers, soccer, basketball, tons of sports. And I had sit out, let my feet completely rest for a little while and try to get them back to 100 percent. And you know, they’re feeling better than they have in an entire year, so I’m pretty optimistic about this upcoming fight that I’m getting ready for next, whoever it is.”

In the meantime, Garbrandt and Dillashaw are currently serving as coaches on The Ultimate Fighter 25, and Cruz has had a front row ticket to the Team Alpha Male drama with his role as a broadcaster on FOX Sport 1’s recap show, TUF Talk. Cruz said he believes the mental strain of the contentious situation on TUF 25 will ultimately play in Garbrandt’s favor, although he’s found it interesting watching Garbrandt deal with taking over the lion’s share of promotion that comes with being UFC champion.

“This is a game of inches, and every fight you have, every single camp you put in is something your body sees and feels,” Cruz said. “I put in twice the work that Cody did [last] year. That’s in camps and that’s in fights and that’s in media, and that’s in everything in this sport. So, now he’s doing it.

“Now he’s got the title and now he’s doing the media, now he’s fighting T.J. Dillashaw and he’s got the workload, he’s got the responsibility of defending that belt against the best in the world. And I’m right here knocking on the door, just like he was knocking on the door, just like T.J. was knocking at the door, just like Faber was knocking at the door. I’m right here knocking on the door and I’m not giving that dude any space. He’s not going anywhere.”

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