“I did this sport to prove that I was the best in the world, prove that I can continue to be the best in the world.”
Those are the words of WEC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. Looking back now, they fit. But when he made his WEC debut three and a half years ago, most would say, nice sentiment, but good luck.
Cruz fought his first WEC fight challenging the promotion’s cornerstone, Urijah Faber, for the featherweight championship. That was after a 9-0 start on the Arizona and Southern California circuit.
Faber choked him out in a minute and a half of the first round.
Cruz went back to his Total Combat stomping grounds and started his next run with a first-round knockout. Rebounding so quickly, Cruz was invited back to the WEC, where he made another debut… at 135 pounds.
He hasn’t looked back. Cruz is on a seven-fight streak – the last six in the bantamweight division – raising his record to 16-1. During that run, he captured the WEC bantamweight title and defended it twice.
It’s been an amazing run, which will soon carry over into the UFC, as the MMA juggernaut swallows up its little brother.
Before that happens, however, Cruz has one last WEC fight. He steps into the cage on Thursday night – the final WEC bantamweight title belt on the line, as well as the first-ever UFC bantamweight championship – to face number one contender Scott Jorgensen at WEC 53.
“Stylistically, this is the same fight as me fighting a lot of the guys that I’ve fought,” Cruz contemplated recently on MMAWeekly Radio. “I’ve fought a lot of guys very similar to his style: short in stature, very strong, fire hydrant type build, great wrestlers with awesome guillotines, and very heavy hands — Charlie Valencia, Joseph Benavidez, Ian McCall, Brian Bowles… Urijah Faber.”
Of those, only Faber stands out as the lone sore spot. But even that loss was an experience that Cruz had to go through to earn his stripes.
“I feel like everything’s happened for a reason. I’ve been put in this situation for a reason. I feel like every situation I’ve been put in is all in a big plan that God has for me to shine through adversity.”
There’s no arguing that Cruz has found his shine. He proved that by rising to the top of the most stacked bantamweight roster in the world, where he currently rules the roost as WEC champion.
But he needed that adversity to build what he needed to get there. All fighters hit the gym, train hard, and push the bodies, but it’s the development of the mind that Cruz believes fuels his success in the cage.
“Stylistically, I fight (Jorgensen) the same way I’ve fought a lot of these guys in past fights. The difference in this fight is that mental edge,” he said. “Who is going to fight differently under different pressures? Who is going to be uncomfortable in certain situations?
“So that’s what I’m fighting every time I get into a new fight. I’m really in there fighting Scott Jorgensen’s brain.”
At the level Cruz and Jorgensen are fighting, a tremendous portion of their success comes from the mental aspect that Cruz focuses on. He knows that Jorgensen is right there with him.
Of course, so were Brian Bowles and Joseph Benavidez, other Top 10 fighters that Cruz has defeated. He relishes such challenges.
“Those are the guys I want to fight against. I want to fight the best competition in the world so I can continue to prove why I’m the best.”
At 11-3, riding a five-fight winning streak, Jorgensen is definitely a fighter that Cruz can use to continue proving he is the best… if he can walk away on Thursday night with the final WEC bantamweight belt and the UFC’s first.
When Cruz is doing an interview, it’s easy for him to sit back and talk about the focus, the dedication, the desire to go out there and prove himself. There are a lot of athletes that have that same dedication, that same desire, that same focus that he talks about, but never rise to the level he has in the cage.
That doesn’t matter; Cruz knows that, for him, it’s not just talk. He’s not just smart about what it takes to be a fighter. He’s not just a gifted athlete that does well of his physical gifts. He’s a fighter at the highest level.
“When I get out there, I’m a different person. My brain flips. I’m not who you’re talking to now, I’m a different person. When I get out there, I’m gonna be ready to go and put on a show.”