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Dominick Cruz : Waking from a Nightmare

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“We’re only as strong as the battles we’ve beaten right? And I’ve had some tough battles. I’ve had everything I earned taken away from me”

For any professional athlete, there is nothing more frustrating and painful than watching on from the sidelines while you recover from a debilitating injury. If you are unable to perform to the high standards that you routinely set yourself it can destroy your character. Nobody has experienced this crushing blow more fully than former UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz.
Four years ago at age 26 Cruz had the world of mixed martial arts at his feet. He ran roughshod through both the WEC and UFC bantamweight division’s amassing a pro record of 19 wins with his only loss coming to bitter rival Urijah Faber in a title fight at featherweight. Although a fierce proposition at 145 pounds Cruz really started to mature when he made the cut ten pounds south to 135. At this weight class, he took out some of the biggest names in the sport such as Ian McCall, Brian Bowles and Joseph Benavidez (twice). He captured the WEC bantamweight title from Bowles and defended it twice. His last title defence against Scott Jorgensen would then earn him the inaugural UFC bantamweight championship of the world as the UFC and WEC merged allowing for the spotlight to be placed on the lower weight classes.

Upon signing with the UFC Cruz would get his rematch against Faber avenging the loss from 2007 winning a competitive unanimous decision at UFC 132. He then faced the Demetrious Johnson in October 2011 and once again proved his greatness by handing “Mighty Mouse” his last professional loss (DJ would move down to the flyweight division after the fight) however, the dominance that he has shown since shines a light on the skill level that Cruz possesses.
Coached by famed trainer Eric Del Fierro at Alliance MMA Cruz had begun to revolutionise striking for mixed martial arts. His ability to bamboozle his opponents with superior footwork, angles and constant switching of stances allowed him to open up with combinations, get to the inside and move away before taking substantial counter strikes. Although his methods allowed experienced fighters like Faber to catch him occasionally, for the most part, these were glancing blows as Cruz moved in and out at lightning speed.

As opposed to boxing where there is a heavy emphasis placed on movement up until this point nobody had arguably worked as hard as Dominick at transferring these techniques over to MMA. His intelligent approach to the sport showed that he was certainly ahead of his time and far superior to his contemporaries in the bantamweight division. He was so far ahead in fact that many commentators questioned whether his methods were awkward and clumsy when in fact they were exceptional.
By the time, he was scheduled to coach opposite Faber in the thirteenth season of the Ultimate Fighter it could be argued that Cruz had effectively cleaned out the bantamweight division. After a very entertaining season of TUF, he was due to face Urijah once again in a rubber match in July 2012 at UFC 148.

Just as Cruz was beginning to receive the credit he rightfully deserved things started to fall apart rapidly. One month before the UFC 148 he received crushing news that he had torn his ACL and would require surgery to fix it.

Cue an interim title set up by the UFC brass to find out who would face the Dominator upon his return. Renan Barao would duly beat Faber to secure a future date with Cruz. In the meantime, Dominick had also had his second surgery to correct the original ACL procedure that had not gone smoothly.

His scheduled return was UFC 169 were he and Barao would meet to unify the bantamweight belts. After the disappointment of the knee trouble that had forced him out for well over a year, Cruz hoped to show the world that he was still a relevant force to be reckoned with. Some analysts saw this as one step too far as Barao had not lost in nearly a decade and carved his own path to gold with some spectacular finishes along the way while Dominick had been injured for two long years.
As the bout on February 1st approached, excitement surrounding Cruz’ return had reached fever pitch. Could the reigning champion prove that the injuries had not set him back in the long term? Could he take out a monster in Barao that Dana White would name the pound for pound best fighter in the world later on that year? Mixed Martial Arts is all about questions and answers and this fight had many.

The fever pitch evaporated as swiftly at is it had begun when news broke that Cruz would be pulling out of the fight. On January 1st, it was confirmed that he had suffered a tear in his groin muscle and would be stripped of the title. Despondent and beltless many would have expected Cruz to maybe turn away from the sport that he had given so much to but had broken down his body in return.

In his absence, Barao would be declared the undisputed bantamweight champion and defeat Faber in the first round of his inaugural title defence. While Barao gained fame and widespread acclaim Cruz for a brief period became an afterthought, a story of an athlete who may never live up to the huge potential he had shown in previous championship fights.

These are the points in an athlete’s career where he is forced to look inward. Many would see the benefit on giving up on an already stellar career. Dominick had reached the pinnacle of the sport before even reaching his athletic prime. He had experienced the high of becoming a world champion not once but twice only for it all to be stolen from him in cruel circumstances.

In the recent episode of UFC Embedded Cruz highlighted how his success as a fighter defined who he was. In the years since his first knee injury, Dominick has had to reinvent himself not only as a fighter but more importantly as a person. The ability to accept one’s fate and allow oneself to forget what made he/ she great previously is something that not many successful people are able to do. How many times in MMA alone have we seen countless legends of the sport who are unable to let it go? Chuck Liddell, BJ Penn and Rich Franklin all suffered brutal ends to their careers because of this. Yet Cruz’ maturity and ability to move on from his former life allowed for the opportunity.
He embraced a role as an analyst for the UFC on Fox. Quickly it was clear that he was naturally gifted at speaking to an audience, and Cruz was lauded for his knack at breaking down combat sequences making it accessible for those who had not previously followed mixed martial arts.

Through this medium, he was able to approach life positively again.
With the confidence, he had gained from his position next to Brian Stann and Daniel Cormier to name but a few, Cruz began the long road back to recovery. It had taken three years and three surgeries before we would see Dominick back in the cage. Nobody could have foreseen what would take place at UFC 178 in September 2014. Matched against a top ten ranked opponent in Takeya Mizugaki who was riding a five fight win streak and had title aspirations of his own, Cruz made the fight as one sided as it could be.

The unpredictable Dominick Cruz of old was on display that night. The feints, the shifts, the takedowns and the mesmerising footwork were all there. Ominously for the rest of the division, his finishing instinct was the most impressive part of his performance. Considered by some a conservative fighter, Cruz hurt Mizugaki early and did not let him recover. The finish came just after the one minute mark and Cruz didn’t hold back in his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan. He immediately let TJ Dillashaw know that he was coming for what was his. “Nothing’s changed I’m just looking forward to beating more Alpha Fails”

Although Cruz would ultimately be pulled from the scheduled matchup with Dillashaw last year following another ACL tear, this time in the opposite knee, his brief return in 2014 shone a light on the former champion’s incredible heart. The talent will always be there but what separates Cruz from most of the UFC’s talented athletes is his stubbornness and iron will. Countless surgeries had not stopped Cruz from returning so a world class opponent in Mizugaki would not stop him from stealing the show. This is what makes his return this Sunday so intriguing.

Dillashaw has looked unstoppable in the past two years aggressively finishing the last three title fights he has been involved in by way of knockout. Ordinarily a fighter returning from numerous injuries would stand no chance against a man who is beginning to lay his own path of greatness. Cruz, however, is not an ordinary fighter. He has risen from the ashes repeatedly and displayed grit and determination. He is to put it simply extraordinary. If the former bantamweight kingpin can once again defy the odds and reclaim his crown it will undoubtedly be the greatest comeback story in Mixed Martial Arts short history.

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Ovince Saint Preux Steps in to Face Corey Anderson at UFC 217

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UFC 217 just got even more interesting. Earlier this week, Patrick Cummins pulled out of his light heavyweight matchup with Corey Anderson due to a Staph infection. Corey “Overtime” Anderson was not happy with his opponents decision, even calling out his opponent on Instagram asking how Cummins could, “call it quits so far from fight night”.

The UFC left Anderson on the card, and he found an opponent through the magic of Twitter. Ovince Saint Preux tweeted out directly to Anderson stating:

It didn’t take long for Anderson to respond agreeing to the fight, tagging Mick Maynard and Dana White in his response.

Only a few short hours later, the fight announcement came from the official UFC twitter account.

 

This top 10 Light Heavyweight matchup should add to an already amazing card coming in November at Madison Square Garden. Saint Preux is coming off of back to back wins both due to the very rare von flue choke, he finds himself ranked #7th in the latest edition of the 205-pound rankings. Corey “Overtime” Anderson is 4-2 in his last 6 fights, but is coming off a brutal first round knockout loss to Jimi Manuwa in March.

With such a exciting fight added to this card, what do you see happening November 4th?  Will Corey Anderson bounce back and look to jump into the top 5 of the rankings, or will Ovince Saint Preux go for a third straight von flue choke? Let us know.

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*Watch* Bellator 185 Weigh in: Live Stream, Results

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Watch the live weigh-ins for Bellator 185 here.

Gegard Mousasi takes on Alexander Slemenko live this Friday night October 20th at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville CT. This is the first appearance for Mousasi in the Bellator cage as he looks to secure a title shot with a win over the very tough former Bellator champion Slemenko. Joining these men of the main card will be a pair of welterweights as Neiman Gracie from the famous Gracie BJJ family takes on Zak Bucia in the co-main event.

Full Weigh-in Results: (Updated in real time)

Main Card:

Gegard Mousasi (185) vs. Alexander Shlemenko (186)
Neiman Gracie (170.5) vs. Zak Bucia (170)
Heather Hardy (126) vs. Kristina Williams (126)
Ryan Quinn (155.5) vs. Marcus Surin (155)
Ana Julaton (125.5) vs. Lisa Blaine (122)

Preliminary Card:

Jordan Young (200) vs. Alec Hooben (194)
Costello van Steenis (185) vs. Steve Skrzat (186)
Vinicius de Jesus (170) vs. Joaquin Buckley (171)
John Beneduce (154.5) vs. Dean Hancock (155)
Timothy Wheeler (144) vs. Pete Rogers (144)
Don Shainis (150) vs. Matthew Denning (149)
Frank Sforza (149) vs. Vovka Clay (150)
Kevin Carrier (156) vs. Jose Antonio Perez (153)
John Lopez (126) vs. Billy Giovanella (125)

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Bellator 185 Fight to Watch: Heather Hardy vs. Kristina Williams

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Heather Hardy will compete in MMA for the second time at Bellator 185 on Friday night, as she faces Kristina Williams in a strawweight contest. The fight takes place on the main card at the Mohican Sun Arena in Connecticut.

Potentially, what Bellator have in Heather ‘The Heat’ Hardy is a major draw that they can build their 125 pound division around. While relatively new to the organisation she is fast becoming one of the more popular names on the roster. Her career is in the early stages, but many have already started to draw comparisons with former boxer turned MMA star, Holly Holm. Holm’s UFC success partly inspired the native New Yorker to make the switch from boxing.

Hardy is already an established world champion in the land of the ‘sweet science’, holding a 21 fight undefeated professional record. She made her MMA debut in June this year with a victory over Alice Yauger, at Bellator 180. At 35, Hardy is a late starter in the sport, but proved at Madison Square Garden against the credible Yauger that she has a bright future.

Hardy’s first outing in the cage was disciplined and composed. Despite a slow start in round one, Hardy grew in confidence as the fight progressed and her cardio never faltered. She mixed in plenty of kicks that complimented her boxing and looked at ease in the clinch, even defending a couple of takedown attempts in the process.

Despite looking on course for a decision win, Hardy forced the TKO stoppage with just thirteen seconds remaining in round three. Even a large cut that required seven stitches from an accidental head clash could not deny her victory.

Hardy was fighting an experienced professional, competing for the tenth time in MMA, which makes the win over Yauger more impressive. However, her upcoming opponent Kristina Williams will be making her professional debut.

There is little known about Williams except that she is 3-0 at amateur level. One of those wins came by way of submission so there may well be a threat to Hardy if the fight goes to the ground. More importantly for Williams is how she copes on the big stage against a popular opponent, who is more familiar competing in high pressure combat situations. If Williams can produce an upset it will be a huge boost in her young career.

But in all honesty, this fight is about Hardy. It’s about getting the win and gaining valuable experience. The boxing career is on hold while MMA takes centre stage. Beating Williams will mean she likely continues fighting inside a cage rather than a boxing ring.

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