Who is the Real UFC Bantamweight Champion: Dominick Cruz or Renan Barao?

September 11, 2013
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Renan Barao at UFC 138Who 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.

Barao puts his interim title on the line for the second time at UFC 165 against Eddie Wineland.  And if you ask him who is the real UFC bantamweight champion, it’s not Dominick Cruz.

“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.

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  • Mark McDowall

    Don’t really see how this is even a debate…Cruz isn’t going to come back until February/March/April 2014…so it will be almost 2 1/2 years before he fights. I think that is about 18 months too long.

    • Supaman


      Like Boxing, you got to have AT LEAST ONE title defense within 1 year.

      Otherwise, technically, Josh Barnett is still Heavyweight Champion. After all, he beat Randy Couture for the title and never lost again in UFC.

      plus, i don’t think it’s even fair to Dominick to have to just fight Barao in his first fight back. I think Dominick should get a tune-up fight first.

      • TheCerealKiller

        please define a “tune-up” fight? A non-title fight? If you mean feed him a can, I don’t think this has ever happened in MMA.

        • wobbles

          Strike force middle weight Cung le vs steve smith I. Many said/thought smith was a stepping stone for CL before a title fight again. Looked that way, untill smith droped cung late in the third. Just my 2 cents worth

      • jeremy

        Then why even call him champion if he cant fight the number one guy and needs a tune up fight? He should have been stripped over a year ago. This is a joke

      • jeremy

        And Barnett got stripped for roids soooo NO he’s not the champ .. He never really won the belt because his win dident count because he cheated. But it seems you forgot that.

  • Darin

    The UFC needs to have a hard rule regarding a situation like this. A champion should be required to defend his belt within a give period, no excuses. I kinda doubt the UFC will do this, given that Dana likes to make it up as he goes. I guess it just comes down to how much does Dana like you? Given Cruz’s style of fighting for points instead of trying to do damage I would think Dana wouldn’t think so highly of him.

    • Advance*

      It’s not like they knew he’d be out almost 2.5 years when he got hurt. They figured he earned the right to come back from the injury in the 9-12 months or whatever it takes for an ACL tear. Since then there have been a bunch of setbacks. I’m sure it got to the point where Dana thought we’ve waited this long, we can wait a little bit longer. The problem is that a little bit longer keeps getting pushed back. I think they would have done the same thing for any of their champions.

      • Darin

        That’s why I said there should be a hard rule regarding a title defense but it won’t happen because Dana doesn’t want his personal opinion to be overruled by UFC rules.

    • Supaman

      as I’ve said before, it should be like Boxing: at least ONE title defense within ONE year. Otherwise, you get stripped of the title.

      If failure to defend is b/c of injury (like Cruz’s case), then the former champ can jump to the front of line to regain title. And you can market/promote it as a undisputed title fight, but in all practical sense of the matter, the “interim” champ is the real champ. In this case Barao.

      • earlsimmons

        it isnt like boxing so sit down and shut up broseph. No1 cares what you think it should be like.

        • Darin

          Of course it’s like boxing. What other sport would you compare mma to? Pro wrestling?

        • jeremy

          What are you 12?

      • jeremy

        I couldn’t agree more..

  • toom

    Cruz couldn’t beat barao if he was fresh so when they do finally fight there’s gonna be some excuses

  • Advance*

    “Former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes coined the phrase that you’re not really a champion until you defend the belt.” He did defend the belt…twice. It’s simple, Cruz is the real champion until the UFC decides he’s not.

    • jeremy

      And when was his last title defense? And if a fighter doesnt have a fight within a year mmaweekly takes them off the top ten. he hasent really been champ for over a year. This is a joke really. He should have been stripped a looooong time ago!

  • Brad King

    barao has way too much for cruz to deal with

  • Corey Hutton

    This is another case of Dana White proving how much of a hypocrite he is. He would have stripped the belt from anyone else by now. But my guess is that like Rousey, Cruz must have tossed his salad.

    • jeremy

      You’re last sentence made you sound like a fool.

  • Seth

    Who the hell is Dominick Cruz?

    • who the hell are you?

      • Seth

        In case your IQ equals Caraway’s – my post was a sarcastic joke, based on amount of time Cruz was out, which lead a lot of ppl to forget that someone named “Dominick Cruz” exists not to mention being UFC Champ. He’s fake champ, he should get his belt taken away from him – at least he should hand it over himself, since he said he doesnt consider himself a champ. If he says he doesnt, than hand over the belt that is not yours. To sum this up – Cruz is fake, he isn’t champion and he stands no chance against someone like Renan Barao. Let’s see how many down votes I will get for my opinion, because Cruz’s fanboys will go red hot on me with their hate.

        • You’re probably the one with the low IQ. I’m brazilian, hence my last name. If I was being a fanboy of sort, wouldn’t I be biased towards Barao? This isn’t a trick question take your time.

          • Seth

            You can have last name Collins, and still be from Brazil. Since people travel all over the world and live in other than their own country, last names doesn’t have to mean from which country are you. You don’t have brazil’s flag tattooed on your forehead, so how would I know? Since you are Brazilian and I’m Chael fan, I don’t think our conversation would bring any positive emotion. So I will just say this – have a nice day 🙂

          • um I can move to france and still be brazilian. That doesn’t automatically make me a Frenchmen. smh at you

          • jeremy

            You’re an idiot.

  • Kryptonitekid

    I’m SHOCKED Cruz hasn’t been stripped yet.. Barao IS the champion.

  • Jay Mcgarrity

    Situation is unfortunate for both guys. On one hand you have Barao’s potential legacy and record being reduced due to the fact that he is putting together interim title wins rather than title wins. On the other hand you have Cruz who has put together a huge string of wins but just stricken with knee injuries for years. In this situation there is no good decision but at this point you have to give Barao the title. When Cruz recovers I believe it should be up to him if he gets a title shot or a top contender with his first fight back. Either way, it would be a shame to see Barao take out another top contender and not get the credibility he deserves by getting the true title.

  • We don’t know yet. Great fight. No way we can’t expect a great fight.

  • Considering I believe Barao can beat Cruz I would consider him the champion, unlike Condit, who I felt he was substituting for GSP

  • The guest of guests

    Barao wins via some sort of submission.

  • onehitwonder

    after 1 year the word “interim” should be dropped .