The sports hangover.
No, it’s not a new sequel to the popular “Hangover” series starring Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis. It’s a common theme in many popular sports, most notably in the NFL, where teams that compete in the Super Bowl fail to live up to the same expectations after reaching the pinnacle of the sport.
The 2001 St. Louis Rams after falling short in the Super Bowl ended up going 7-9 the next year. The same thing happened to the 2000 New York Giants. The 1998 Atlanta Falcons went an abysmal 5-11 the year after they reached the Super Bowl.
It’s a common theme in sports, but could it happen in MMA?
For UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, he has no intention of that happening to him. Cruz next defends his title this weekend at UFC on Versus 6 in Washington D.C. against Demetrious Johnson, but that’s hot on the heels of him beating the biggest rival of his young career, Urijah Faber.
Cruz and Faber went back and forth for months, sometimes getting personal, other times just taking pot shots at each other’s fighting styles, but when the incumbent champion was able to defeat his nemesis it was like removing a 135-pound monkey off his back.
But as he heads into his next title defense is Cruz possibly going to suffer the same curse that’s haunted so many NFL and other pro sports teams?
“I have seen that and I know what you’re talking about, but I’ve never understood that in my opinion,” Cruz told MMAWeekly Radio about the so called sports hangover. “To me, we’re all fighters already, that’s our job, we fight. You fight who you’re up against next and if you are a real fighter, in my opinion, you’re willing to fight whoever. I don’t really care. To be honest it’s just another fight. I’m going out there to win something new and showcase my skills and be exciting for the fans.”
It’s that kind of mentality that has separated Cruz from many top fighters over his career. From his rise to the top of the bantamweight division to the three consecutive title defenses he’s made since that time, Cruz doesn’t believe in slowing down just because he has a shiny gold belt around his waist now.
The same hunger that drove Cruz to win the title still exists inside of him today, and it’s that fire that he believes will lead him to many more defenses of his UFC bantamweight belt.
“I can’t really explain what separates me from other fighters, maybe that’s something I’m trying to figure out for myself. I think I’ve actually surprised myself a lot in my career with the things that I’ve done. The bottom line is how I grew up and the way I came up, I never complained about the way I was raised in humble beginnings,” Cruz said.
“When I explain my background and where I come from, there’s never a complaint. If I can do it, anybody can do it. Because just where I started from, I was never the super athletic guy, I was never the guy all the coaches wanted. I just had to work harder to keep up with everybody else. So to me it all just stems from hard work.”
In the past, Cruz has been called cocky by some for his seeming over confidence as he heads into fights, but rest assured the UFC’s top 135-pound fighter isn’t patting himself on the back or saying he’s better than anybody else.
There is a confidence in Dominick Cruz, because he believes that’s what makes him better than the other guy standing across the cage from him. It’s a belief in himself. It’s a belief in his coaches and his training and that he’s done everything possible to prepare for the fight ahead.
“I know when I get to fight time, I don’t have a doubt in my mind that I’m going in there to collect the ‘W’. Because I put the time and dedication into training to be confident enough when I co out there to fight that I don’t have to second guess myself,” Cruz stated.
“I know what I’m capable of, and I know what I need to do. I guess it’s fair to say that I’m just very confident at that time.”
Cruz also sets very lofty goals for himself when it comes to fighting. He looks up to a fighter like UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, who has been able to not only win the title, but defend it more times than anybody in UFC history.
He’s dominated a weight class like no fighter in history has been able to do, and Silva just continues to get better and better.
That’s what Cruz sees for himself. To even be held in the same breath as someone like Anderson Silva is an honor according to the UFC bantamweight champion and he hopes to one day hold those same kinds of accolades.
“I’m in the prime time of my life to really take advantage of the situation I’m in to accomplish the goals I’ve set for myself. So it’s very important for me to continue to sacrifice and stay focused while my body is still working and capable of doing the things that I want so that I can go ahead and break all those records and set all those goals and beat all those goals I set for myself,” said Cruz.
“I have the rest of my life when I’m broken down and can’t move anymore and stuck with arthritis to do all those other things that I sacrificed during this time. It’s worth it to me. I love what I do.”
Cruz hasn’t skipped a beat in training and he hasn’t slowed down since his last fight. He’s been working every day and every moment for the next step in the legacy he hopes to build. The man charged with trying to stop that run is Demetrious Johnson, but for as much as Cruz respects his opponent, when he steps in the cage with him on Oct. 1, he’s going to feel like he’s already won.