Dominick Cruz isn’t losing sleep over what the UFC rankings mean for him and his competition.
“The Dominator” has been an anomaly in the UFC’s contender considerations for some time, having established himself as arguably the greatest fighter ever to compete at 135 pounds over the span of his career and earning multiple title opportunities despite competing just five times since 2011. It doesn’t hurt that Cruz capitalized on one of those opportunities, winning back the UFC bantamweight title from T.J. Dillashaw at a UFC Fight Night event in Boston five years ago.
That title currently resides in the hands of Petr Yan, who defends it for the first time this Saturday at UFC 259 against Aljamain Sterling. Cruz will also be in action this weekend as he looks to snap a two-fight skid when he takes on fast-rising contender Casey Kenney, and he was asked if the legitimacy of Yan’s reign might be questioned should Yan falter in his first defense.
Cruz agreed it’s important for Yan to beat Sterling, but added that the concept of legitimacy is debatable based on his view of how the UFC’s rankings work.
“Winning the belt, anybody’s pretty close to winning that belt in the top-15 in my opinion,” Cruz said at media day on Wednesday. “We really are. I’ve fought guys that when I was at the top with the belt, I fought guys that were No. 15 just one year before and they won three fights in a row, and sometimes you can win one or two fights depending on if it’s in a spectacular fashion and get right up to title contention.
“So when you look at rankings, if I’m being perfectly honest rankings have to do with the money you’re paid more than where you’re actually legitimized. So what is a ranking to a fighter?”
In the official UFC rankings, Cruz currently holds the No. 11 spot in the bantamweight rankings while Kenney sits somewhere outside the listed top-15. This discrepancy doesn’t bother Cruz at all and if anything, it further illustrates his point about the rankings theoretically being tied more to salary than in-cage results.
“Like I said about the rankings, it’s about pay,” Cruz said. “If [Kenney] were getting paid more, he’d be ranked. Facts. That’s a fact.”
Cruz works as one of the UFC’s most visible analysts when he’s not competing and he pointed out that when he commentates he makes a mental note to ignore rankings and focus strictly on the athletes’ stories and capabilities. He even offered a breakdown of Kenney who, ranked or not, Cruz views as an elite opponent.
“To me, Casey Kenney is one of the best in the world,” Cruz said. “He’s well-rounded, he’s a black belt in judo, he comes from a grappling background. He trains with John Crouch out in Arizona. He started with his grappling, then added the judo and stuck with it. As he’s improved, he’s on a three-fight win streak and his striking has been improving too.
“He just beat Nathaniel Wood, who has a good striking base first, so coming from a grappling background and beating a striker he’s improving on that aspect as well.”
In response to Kenney suggesting that Cruz’s skills haven’t advanced over the years, Cruz was short.
“That would be his interpretation and he’s allowed to have it,” Cruz said.
He insisted that there are no personal issues between him and Kenney, having briefly met the Arizona-based fighter before. Cruz added that following his title fight losses to Henry Cejudo and Cody Garbrandt—which had a gap of three and a half years between them—he was in no position to be looking past Kenney or any potential matchups.
“I’ve lost two title fights in a row right now,” Cruz said. “I wasn’t really looking at any specific opponent for any specific thing because when you’re losing it’s kind of like, just get in there, right? Why go too far ahead? So Sean Shelby gave me a guy on a winning streak and am I going to argue with the matchmaker after my last—I got an opportunity in that title fight and it did not get executed the way I wanted. I felt very gifted and honored to get that opportunity to fight for the title.
“So after that gift, just show up, do your job, take the fight that’s given to you, shut up, and go.”