Dominick Cruz finally made his return to the Octagon at UFC 178 on Saturday night in Las Vegas. Trying to come back to form after a three-year derailment due to injuries, he squared off with a red-hot Takeya Mizugaki.
In short, Dominick Cruz is back, and he hasn’t skipped a beat.
The former WEC and UFC bantamweight champion immediately showed the elusive movement that is his trademark, bobbing, weaving, feinting, and faking, as Mizugaki tried to find a home for his punches.
Seconds into their feeling out process, Cruz threw a punch combination that set up a double-leg takedown that he used to plant Mizugaki on the mat. Once there, the fight was a done deal.
Cruz unloaded with a fury of punches. Mizugaki got to a knee briefly, but Cruz kept him on the mat and then put the Japanese fighter in another time zone with several more punches that landed square to the face, forcing the referee to step in and stop the fight 61 seconds into the opening round.
The joy was written across Cruz’s face in his post-fight interview with UFC broadcaster Joe Rogan.
“I’m still trying to take it in,” he beamed. “I always knew I was gonna make it back. It was always in my heart. I wanted to be here. But man, it was tough.”
A torn anterior cruciate ligament initially put him out of action. Then he had numerous complications from the surgery to repair the injury, putting his comeback perpetually out of reach, and leaving him stripped of his championship belt. Several months ago, he was again sidelined by a torn groin muscle, but Saturday night, he finally put three years of frustration behind him and took it all out on Mizugaki.
In Cruz’s mind, there was never a question of how the fight would go.
“I’m stronger, I’m faster, I’m in better shape, and I want it more,” he said. “That’s what was in my head.”
It was enough just to get back in the Octagon, so his next fight isn’t scheduled yet, but Cruz said he’s ready to get back to beating up more Team Alpha Fales, a not-so-thinly-veiled reference arch-rival Urijah Faber’s fight team.
For now, however, he’ll bask in the glow of knowing that there are no more questions about what kind of Dominick Cruz would show up in the cage upon his return. It’s the same Dominick Cruz that defeated Faber for the WEC championship and road that momentum into becoming the UFC champion.
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