The debate about who is the best bantamweight fighter in the world was answered in Boston on Sunday. Former titleholder Dominick Cruz completed the greatest comeback story in MMA history by defeating champion T.J. Dillashaw by split decision to gain back the title that he never actually lost.
Heading into the title fight against Dillashaw, Cruz had only fought one fight since October 2011 when he defended the belt against Demetrious Johnson. He was later stripped of the title due to inactivity stemming from a series of knee injuries that resulted in three ACL surgeries.
The opening round was competitive with Dillashaw being the aggressor. He pressured Cruz but was off target with most of his strikes.
Dillashaw began chasing Cruz through the second and third frames. Cruz was like a ghost. He was there and then gone, just out of reach of Dillashaw’s attack. In the second round, Cruz became the first fighter to take down Dillashaw in a fight.
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In the fourth round, Dillashaw delivered a hard leg kick that visibly slowed the former champion’s movement. He took Cruz down at one point. As they scrambled to their feet, Dillashaw continues to target the injured leg of Cruz with knees to the thigh. At the end of the fourth frame, the momentum has shifted toward Dillashaw.
In the final frame, Cruz was on cruise control. Dillashaw poured it on looking for a finish, but Cruz was too elusive to catch with a fighting ending blow. After 15 minutes of fighting, Cruz was crowned the new UFC bantamweight champion by split decision.
“I had to show something to myself. That’s what this was. It wasn’t what he had for me,” said Cruz following the win.
Cruz’ comeback story is one of the greatest in sports history and he credited his post opponents for making him the fighter that he is today.
“I’ve seen different guys that move like him. DJ [Demetrious Johnson] is faster. [Joseph] Benavidez hits hard. [Urijah] Faber, as much as I don’t like him, he’s a tough guy. All these guys have built me into who I am right now. T.J. has just added to that, and now I’m on another level,” he said.
Dillashaw didn’t agree with the decision and felt that he had done enough to retain the title.
“I’m very disappointed. I thought I had that fight. I was the aggressor and tried to push the pace, scored the bigger shots,” said Dillashaw following the loss. “I felt after the last two rounds that I won decisively.”
He gave Cruz credit for his amazing return to greatness, but called for an immediate rematch.
“I want to do it again.”