If you go back through the history of the UFC bantamweight division, there is one name synonymous with the title picture.
The inaugural champion, the champion with the most successful defences in the division’s history and one of the greatest of all-time, Dominick Cruz will undoubtedly go down as a legend of the sport.
His phenomenal footwork and speed to go with his striking and grappling have not only made him the benchmark for years, but they’ve also seen his career progress into him becoming one of the better analysts and commentators around right now.
It’s so easy to forget that Cruz is only 35 years old right now. The physical prime of his career and he should be peaking right now if you look at the rest of the division. Instead, we’re contemplating whether a defeat could spell the end of his career inside the cage as an active fighter.
It’s indisputable that his time at the top of the game has been severely plighted by injuries. Torn ACL’s, torn groins, broken hands, plantar fascia tendinitis, a broken arm and a shoulder injury later, Cruz finds himself on the back of back-to-back defeats for the first time in his career.
Those fights were more than three years apart, but now less than a year after his last fight Cruz will step into the cage in a non-title fight for the first time since 2014.
He won’t even be on the main card, as he takes on Casey Kenney in the featured prelim bout at UFC 259. It could potentially mark the passing of the guard, with Cruz unlikely to continue as an active competitor should he be defeated by the up and coming 29-year-old.
That’s not because Kenney isn’t good though, he’s excellent. But it would be a signal to Cruz that the game has moved on from him and his qualities and he’s no longer going to be able to compete at the top end of the division like he wants to.
With so many issues with his body, it’s unlikely that if he can’t compete with the best that he’d want to continue. But he does want to continue.
Cruz has stated many times that he feels he has plenty left to give the sport after missing so many years through injuries. He still has fight miles on his clock and he believes he is still good enough to be the world champion. His last fight was a shot at the title, where a controversial stoppage saw him KO’d for the first time in his career by Henry Cejudo.
He was fell in the fight up to that point and showed he still has the skill to throw down with the best. But his body gave out on him again. Now Kenney will come in with hunger and youth on his side, with a very physical style and approach and will look to break the legendary former champion.
On paper, anyone who’s watched Cruz in the past would be expecting him to waltz through this fight because when he’s at his best he is one of the best to ever do it. The problem is now that we have no idea if that level is attainable anymore or if it ever will be again.
Kenney poses a very real threat to the career of ‘The Dominator’, with his phenomenal wrestling and work rate. He’s more than capable of getting a win over this version of Cruz, but that’s just it. This version.
If Cruz loses this weekend, not only is it the start of something special for Kenney but it will likely be the end of a golden career for one of the best ever.