Assuncao was aiming to a trilogy bout with champion T.J. Dillashaw for the 135-pound championship after going 3-0 in 2017 with wins over Aljamain Sterling, Marlon Moraes and Matthew Lopez, but the promotion has taken a different direction.
Away from the cage since a third-round knockout win over Lopez last November, Assuncao told MMA Fighting that the perfect booking right now would be against Cruz.
”I’ve already called him out in many interviews, but we don’t know what’s next for me yet,” Assuncao said. “The fight to make is me against Cruz. He’s the No. 2 in the ranking and I’m the No. 3. That’s the right fight to make. Marlon (Moraes) and Jimmie (Rivera) are right below me and they are fighting next, so this is the fight to make — but he already ran from the fight, said he’s out indefinitely.”
Cruz hasn’t fought since Dec. 2016, when he lost the title to Cody Garbrandt via decision at UFC 207. “The Dominator” was expected to return to action last December, but was forced out of a UFC 219 clash with Jimmie Rivera with a broken arm.
”I think he’s trying some kind of strategy, like waiting for someone to get injured and get a title fight on short notice,” Assuncao said. “I think that’s what he wants. But we have to make this fight to see who’s the next contender.”
Assuncao has fought three times since Cruz won a bout in the UFC for the last time, besting Urijah Faber via decision in June 2016, and the Brazilian thinks that he should be ranked above him on the official UFC list.
”Even though he’s a former champion,” Assuncao said, “most of the guys he beat when he was champion have already retired.”
Dillashaw is the only fighter still active as a bantamweight in the UFC that lost to Cruz during his UFC title reign. Faber, who lost twice to Cruz, has retired from the sport, and Takeya Mizugaki was released from the UFC in 2017, and Demetrious Johnson dropped down to flyweight to become the longest-reigning champion in the history of the promotion.
”I’m the most consistent fighter in the division, he’s the most inconsistent fighter in the division,” Assuncao said. “We both want to fight for the title, so this is the perfect fight.”
Targeting a June return to action inside the UFC cage, Assuncao says that every time he fights before earning his long-awaited shot at the belt will eventually help him in the end.
”Dominick knows that this is the perfect fight to make, but I want to fight,” Assuncao said. “We’ll try to make it happen and stay active and prepared to fight when the opportunity comes. The more I fight, they are actually helping me [laughs]. It’s feeding me with experience, and when my time comes they can bring anyone.”