Who is the real UFC bantamweight champion?
That question is getting harder to answer with official titleholder Dominick Cruz on the sidelines for nearly two years due to consecutive knee surgeries, while interim champion Renan Barao defends his title for the second time at UFC 165 on Sept. 21.
Cruz (19-1) won the 135-pound world title in March 2010 by defeating then-champion Brian Bowles. He defended the belt four times with wins over Joseph Benavidez, Scott Jorgensen, Urijah Faber and Demetrious Johnson.
After coaching The Ultimate Fighter: Live opposite his rival, Faber, the two were scheduled to face off for a third time at UFC 148. Faber handed Cruz his one and only loss in 2007, but the fight took place in the featherweight division. Cruz is undefeated as a bantamweight. While preparing for the rubber match, Cruz suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
When the first surgery to repair the damage failed, Cruz then had to undergo a second procedure, prolonging his return. Cruz last fought on Oct. 1, 2011.
Former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes coined the phrase that you’re not really a champion until you defend the belt.
Barao (30-1, 1 No Contest) hasn’t lost since his professional debut on April 14, 2005. The Brazilian is essentially on a 30-fight winning streak. He won the interim bantamweight title by defeating Urijah Faber at UFC 149 by unanimous decision. He defended the title on Feb. 16 by submitting Michael McDonald in the fourth round.
“Seriously, Dominick has been out for a while. It’s going to be two years now,” said Barao during a media conference call on Tuesday. “I mean no disrespect to him, but from the moment I won this belt, and I have defended it once, I’ve considered myself the champion, for sure.”
Cruz is expected to make his extra-long-awaited return at the beginning of 2014.