Las Vegas, Nevadaa��March 24, 2007. A 22-year-old Dominick Cruz steps into the WEC cage for his first shot at a world title. As the opening bell sounds, Dominick Cruz immediately applies pressure. His opponent, Urijah Faber, seems caught off guard by his young adversary. And in the opening exchanges, Cruz lands a heavy head kick. With Cruz taking the front foot early, it looks like an upset could be on the cards, but Faber’s veteran savvy soon kicks in. Cruz looks to assert his dominance by taking down Faber, but in the process gets caught in the Sacramento native’s patented guillotine and is forced to tap after just over a minute. Unbeknownst to both Cruz and Faber, that night in Vegas would be but the beginning of an almost decade-long rivalry.
Since that night in ’07, he and Faber have become synonymous with each other, their fighting legacies intrinsically linked. From the moment Cruz would win his bantamweight title, fans were clamoring for him to fight a�?The California Kida�? once again. All of his subsequent WEC wins met with calls for a Faber rematch lingering on the periphery. Eventually, at UFC 132, Cruz and Faber would meet once more. And this time, Cruz would dominate, winning via unanimous decision. With the specter of Faber seemingly banished, Cruz began to write his own legacy. On October 1, 2011, he would put on perhaps his best performance ever in defeating Demetrious Johnson. But soon after, disaster would strike. Cruz would miss the next three years.
Just as he would enter maturity as a fighter, his body would fall apart. The UFC would book him to face Faber once more. But during the build-up he would tear his anterior cruciate ligament. And following surgery to correct it, would tear it once again. In 2014, Cruz was set to return and unify his title with interim champion Renan Barao, but this time his groin muscle tore during training camp. He was granted a momentary pardon from his series of unfortunate events when he recovered to fight Takeya Mizugaki in September 2014, but weeks after this fight, his reprieve was revoked and news broke of another torn ACL. This would keep him out until 2016.
2016 was a year of rebirth for Cruz. He would return to the sport he loves and defeat TJ Dillashaw in a spectacular fight. To add to his victory over Dillashaw, he went on to dominate his old adversary, Urijah Faber, at UFC 199. Since, Faber has retired and he has remained injury free. Free from his two greatest foes, injuries and Faber, he is finally ready to write the next chapter of his story. UFC 207 will determine if it will have a happy ending or end up like a Shakespearean tragedy.
In Cody Garbrandt, he will face a foe like no other. Garbrandt possesses a level of power unheard of for a 135-pounder. When he hits you, it is all over. With Garbrandt there is no room for mistakes. But similar to Cruz fighting Faber in ’07, Garbrandt is lacking the a�?big-fighta�? experience of his adversary. Realistically, this should be an opportunity for Cruz to showcase his technical proficiency. Garbrandt’s aggressiveness will provide him a canvas to paint a masterpiece upon. Plus, his defensive skills and countering ability will likely nullify Garbrandt’s power advantage.
UFC 207 gives Cruz the opportunity to garner the stardom he deserves. With Ronda Rousey making her return to the cage for the first time since her loss to Holly Holm at UFC 193, there will be plenty of pay-per-view buys. With Rousey limiting media appearances over fight week, he and Garbrandt have been pushed in front of the lenses of mainstream media outlets. There is a genuine buzz surrounding this fight. For the first time in a long time, casual fans are investing in watching Dominick Cruz.
The outcome of Friday night’s co-main event will go a long way in defining his legacy. If he wins, Cruz may well be able to transcend the traditional narratives that have limited his stardom. A spectacular performance will finally lend him recognition as something other than an a�?injury-pronea�? talent. With a win, his stardom will stand on its own. He will no longer be defined by Faber in the eyes of casual fans.
As new owners search to find stars that will lead the brand into a new era, the stakes have never been higher. And with one big performance, Cruz or Garbrandt could catapult their way into mainstream stardom going forward.