The end came in the second round after Cejudo blasted Cruz with a knee strike that sent the former bantamweight champion crashing to the canvas. Cejudo followed up with a flurry of punches as Cruz was trying to get back to his feet.
Before he could stand again, referee Keith Peterson stepped in to call a stop to the contest. As Cejudo celebrated, Cruz immediately lodged a complaint.
“I mean I’m not happy with the stoppage obviously because I specifically asked the ref to let me go ‘til I was out and I was standing up,” Cruz said in his post-fight interview. “If I stayed on the floor, I get it. But I’m working my way up. I was definitely still aware of what was going on. Now I get there were unanswered shots, that’s part of a fight but if I’m standing up to my feet, I’m in the fight. If I’m staying on the floor and continually being chopped down, then I get it.
“But hats off to Henry, I’ve got no excuses. I shouldn’t have gotten caught with that knee the way that I got caught and that’s what put me in that position. But at the same time, I specifically asked the ref to make sure he let me take the shots I needed to and if I’m standing up on my way up, how do I have my balance? I’m getting up. So give me a fighting chance. This is for a world title. This isn’t some backyard fight.”
According to Cruz, his problems with Peterson actually started before the fight even began. In a second post-fight interview later in the evening, Cruz claimed that Peterson was inebriated, which made him even more upset with the situation.
“You’re rocked. Sometimes you get hit. I’ve been in those positions many, many times though,” Cruz told the UFC’s Megan Olivi. “I had seconds left in the round and I just think that sometimes I wish there was a way to keep these refs a little more responsible sometimes.
“The guy smelled like alcohol and cigarettes so who knows what he was doing?”
Cruz then doubled down on his claims saying the referee “definitely” smelled of alcohol and cigarettes while stating that he wanted to change officials as soon as he set foot in the octagon to do battle with Cejudo.
“I wish they drug tested them,” Cruz said about the referees. “I know Herb Dean is good. He’s one of the best refs. Immediately when I saw that ref, I was like man is there a way to veto a ref and get a new one? I wonder that. As fighters do we have that choice? I wish we did.”
As far as what comes next for Cruz, he’s not ready to make any decisions regarding his career just yet.
Following the win, Cejudo announced his retirement from the sport but Cruz definitely wasn’t ready to join him, especially in the wake of such an emotional defeat where he felt like he was robbed of an opportunity to continue by the referee.
“I’m not sure,” Cruz told Joe Rogan immediately after the fight. “I could have done the same thing Henry’s doing if I wanted to, you know? I wanted to finish this fight. I had never been knocked out before. I don’t feel that I was knocked out tonight.
“I feel like I was still in this fight but if the ref stopped it, the ref stopped it. I specifically made sure and told him that I didn’t agree with the stoppage, which a lot of fighters do but my argument is if I’m standing up to my feet how am I knocked out? You can’t be standing up and be knocked out at the same time.”