Dominick Cruz is not hanging up his gloves any time soon.
The former UFC bantamweight champion appeared on Wednesday’s The MMA Hour and shot down the idea of retirement despite a brutal knockout in his previous fight, a UFC San Diego headliner against Marlon Vera that ended with a kick to his head.
“I’m here, yeah — what do you mean?” Cruz said when asked about his future. “Right now, it’s been a month-and-a-half. I’m running again, I’ve been lifting, getting the body strong. I’m still top-10 level. I don’t look at myself after that loss and go, ‘I’m not there any more.’ I do the opposite. I go, alright, speed’s still there, power’s still there, all this stuff’s still there. We’ve just got to tighten up some defense.
“You either retire, or you lose, and those are your choices. I think a lot of people who retire, they didn’t lose, because they retired. You can just keep going, but there’s a point where you’re just going to stack up too many losses, because you’re not there any more. I don’t really look at my last fight and go, ‘Ah, you’re not really at the level, these guys are just outclassing you.’ It wasn’t really that. So, just take my team, fix the fundamentals and take it a day at a time. Get my body strong, and just train and love training.”
Cruz’s loss snapped a two-fight winning streak built following his loss of the bantamweight title and failure to re-take it after a nearly four-year layoff due to injury. At 37, the San Diego native has been at the top level of MMA in multiple promotions and occupied a short list of veterans to recapture a lost belt.
Cruz marvels at the technical advances over his time in MMA and the threats young fighters face, among them the ambidextrous striking skills Vera used to catch him from a southpaw stance after struggling with his characteristically elusive movement. Yet he believes his skills are still relevant, and if anything, he only needs to add more fundamentals to his game to keep up with the field.
“I think I change nothing,” he said. “I can’t change anything. That’s who I am. My hand was even up when I got caught. I was defending myself. But this is a game of inches.
“I hit him, and I was winning for three rounds, and I could have dropped him any of those times, he could have dropped me any of those times. It happened when it happened. When you look at the analysis, all you can do is make your own adjustments and control the controllables. I can’t control the uncontrollables, and the uncontrollables are the other person. So I focus on me, and fundamentals is something I can add. ... Just add a little bit more for a longer pace. ... It was a nice read, and that’s how it goes. I’ve made nice reads and embarrassed people, and that’s happened to me now, too.”
Despite his loss, Cruz believes he is still one win away from another title shot. That’s what makes him an attractive target to up-and-comers who repeatedly call him out. This past weekend, it was Jonathan Martinez, who stopped veteran Cub Swanson by leg kick and used his post-fight speech to request a fight with the ex-champ.
As with many callouts, Cruz received the message at the UFC broadcast table, and his reaction was the same.
“What a sweetheart of a f****** guy — let’s be honest, the nicest guy on earth, calling me out, and it makes sense,” he said. “Do you want to fight a guy that’s got 300 followers and is lethal, or do you want to fight a guy who’s been doing this for a long time and is also lethal, but either way, you’re facing two dangerous guys — one guy is a former champ, one guy is nasty, not a former champ. Who you going to call out?
“People are going to keep calling me out. I understand that. I can’t knock him. All I can do is there with my microphone and my suit and go, ‘Thank you, appreciate the callout, respect.’ What, are you supposed to say, be mad? It’s a business. I get it. It’s a business move, and it’s a little weird when you’re standing there.”
Right now, Cruz cares most about getting himself back into shape, not overtaxing his body on the road with the UFC, and rebuilding the parts of his game that make him into a well-rounded threat. Whether he competes again for another title, faces a young, hungry talent, or some other option on his long road, his mindset hasn’t changed. He is a part of the fight game, inside and out, and hasn’t let it go.
“I’m a fan of the sport,” he said. “I’m a fan of [T.J.] Dillashaw. I’m a fan of [Aljamain] Sterling. I’m a fan of all these guys ... [Petr] Yan, [Sean] O’Malley. So to get to call their fights, to compete against them, it’s cool. I’m still here. I’m still competing.”
And then there’s the ultimate perspective on his current lot. As bad as things got in his last outing, it’s still way better than where he started.
“I come from a trailer park,” Cruz said. “I’m out of the trailer park. Let’s be honest, life is good.”