Kenney is scheduled to face the former bantamweight champion at UFC 259 on March 6 in a bout that has the potential to vault the 29-year-old fighter to stardom. In six UFC appearances, Kenney has amassed a 5-1 record and he finished the previous year with three straight victories including a Fight of the Night-winning performance against Nathaniel Wood at UFC 254.
With Cruz fresh off of a UFC title fight, Kenney can see clearly where a win over Cruz will place him in the rankings.
“I think it’s gonna put me in a position where I want to be in the UFC,” Kenney said on a recent appearance on What the Heck. “Obviously, jumping into the top-five, top-10, chasing the belt, that’s the ultimate goal. Dom just happens to be the next guy in the way and it’s a great guy to be in the way. His last fight was for the belt, he only has a few fights left in his career as far as he’s not gonna have many more opponents after me. So I’m grateful to have that shot.
Aldo is coming off of a win over Marlon Vera, and Edgar lost to Cory Sandhagen in February, so Kenney’s fight with Cruz is one of several recent bouts that has pitted a relatively fresh face against a veteran of the game.
Cruz, 35, has suffered back-to-back title fight losses to Cody Garbrandt and Henry Cejudo. “The Dominator” is in the twilight of his career, something that Kenney is aware of even if he doesn’t put much thought into the notion of retiring Cruz.
“Obviously, that’s out there, you can hear people talk about it, but I don’t want to ever count anybody out,” Kenney said. “When I say he’s only got a handful of fights, that could be anywhere from one to five more fights. But Dominick Cruz isn’t gonna have 10, 20 more fights, he doesn’t have 10 years left in the game type of thing.
“As far as this being his last fight, who knows? I’m never gonna count the guy out, no matter what happens on March 6. I know it’s probably gonna be one of his last few, that’s for sure.”
One reason Kenney isn’t looking too far ahead is that Cruz has only lost to three men in his career, Cejudo, Garbrandt, and Urijah Faber. The former champion’s elusive style has made many of MMA’s best look foolish and now it’s Kenney’s turn to see if he can become the fourth man to have his hand raised against Cruz.
“It’s pretty much the same,” Kenney said of his preparation for Cruz. “Each and every person I look at how they move and we’re gonna try to get similar looks or as close of a look as we can get to that person. In reality, you’re never gonna mimic—especially a guy like Dominick—you’re never gonna completely mimic him. You can get some decent, good looks to give you an idea, but the main thing is keeping what I have sharp, making my improvements, and the way I fight and my IQ, I can make adjustments in there and then I’m always ready for anything.
“There’s nothing Dom is gonna do that I haven’t seen before. He’s got two hands, two legs, maybe a little bit different movement, but he’s not gonna have any third arm coming out and hitting me or anything like that, so I’ll be ready for it. Obviously, the level we’re at, if I can get a couple of guys to try to move like him it gives me a slight idea of how it’s gonna be.”
According to Kenney, the original plan was actually to fight Song Yadong on Dec. 12, but that bout never made it past a verbal agreement. He was pleasantly surprised when the offer to fight Cruz came along.
Cruz’s accomplishments are held in significantly higher regard than that of Song, another budding contender at 135 pounds, so is Kenney intimidated at all going from Song to an opponent of Cruz’s stature?
“I think one of my best attributes is my ability to compete,” Kenney said. “I’m gonna go in there and I’m gonna be myself no matter who’s in front of me and I’ve proven that time and time again with showing up to all my title fights, the Contender Series, my UFC debut, all of the above.
“When the moment’s big, I rise to the occasion and I don’t see it going any other way with Dom. This is what I got into this sport for is to fight guys exactly like him and moments exactly like the one I had on Fight Island, so I don’t see it being any different.”
Kenney welcomes a striking or grappling matchup with Cruz, especially the latter if it gives him the opportunity to become the first fighter to submit Cruz inside the octagon (Cruz’s only career submission loss happened in his first meeting with Faber when they were WEC featherweights).
He also joked that he’s been working on his alcohol and smoking tolerance as a potential X factor, a sarcastic reference to Cruz’s questioning of referee Keith Peterson’s professionalism following what Cruz perceived to be an early stoppage in the Cejudo fight.
“The main thing that I’m working on this camp is my booze intake and my cigarette intake,” Kenney said. “Dom has a kryptonite for booze and cigarettes, so that’s the first thing I’m gonna start off with in camp and then we’ll worry about the technique and the cardio and all that good stuff.”