Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
T.J. Dillashaw appears to be the frontrunner for the next UFC bantamweight title shot, and Dominick Cruz isn’t sure where that leaves him.
Cruz doesn’t seem thrilled with the idea of Dillashaw getting to fight champ Aljamain Sterling, but he also understands why the UFC would book it.
“He was suspended for cheating, so to get a shot after one win, OK, cool,” Cruz said Wednesday on The MMA Hour. “Sounds like a hook-up to me. He got two years off, didn’t really lose any money and then just gets right back up in [the title picture]. It’s not like he had an easy fight; [Cory] Sandhagen’s no joke. But still, one fight? Pedro Munhoz and all these other people that are in the division that have just been competing, competing, competing, it’s crazy. But I kind of get it, because when I was laid off for so long with my knee injuries, I came back, fought [Takeya] Mizugaki, blew my knee out again, and came back and got a title shot. But I hadn’t lost, and I hadn’t gotten in trouble for anything – I just blew my knees out. So, it’s a little different, and I got my shot that way.
“But it’s showing me that what is dominant in each division is ticket sales and storyline, and the storyline of T.J. Dillashaw, the fact that he cheated, isn’t really in that. If anything, it just makes people dislike him more, which will make people tune in. So I think that the storyline is more important for the UFC than anything else to sell tickets than who deserves what.
“I’ve said it a million times – nobody really deserves anything in this sport. You get everything you earn. He fought Cory Sandhagen. He earned that. But that’s pretty much my layout. I think that there’s a lot of good fights you can make. To make that one? I guess so. I guess, but there’s plenty of other fights you can make that you could give that opportunity to besides him. But obviously, the storyline sells, so they’re going with it.”
Sterling called out Dillashaw at UFC 273 immediately after his second win over ex-champ Petr Yan. The bantamweight champ later walked back his move, saying he got caught up in a narrative that Dillashaw was the likely next contender, though he still wasn’t opposed to the matchup. He did, however, add that Cruz or Jose Aldo were just as worthy of the opportunity.
That would be music to the ears of two-time bantamweight champ Cruz. But so far, he’s still in the dark about his next step. He revealed that his contract was extended for six months after he turned down an offer from the UFC to fight one month after his UFC 269 triumph over Pedro Munhoz; injuries he suffered during the fight prevented him from making a quick turnaround. Since then, he hasn’t heard from the promotion.
“I’ve told them dates,” Cruz said. “I’m ready to fight. Right now, I’m at a point where I’m fighting for my legacy. I’m a multiple-time world champion. The belt’s important, but really, going toward the belt just cements my legacy, and that’s why it’s important to go that direction, to be fighting the Jose Aldos, the Petr Yans, the T.J. Dillashaws, the Aljamain Sterlings, the [Merab] Dvalishvilis, that are right there at the top. I’m not asking for some kind of handout – I’m asking for the toughest dudes in the world, and when the date matches up, it’ll happen.”
Cruz would prefer his tough matchup take place in August or September at a pay-per-view event, not as a headliner of a UFC APEX card where he wouldn’t fight in front of a crowd and wouldn’t get extra money for fighting a five-round headliner (assuming he was the main event).
“I’d rather fight three rounds on pay-per-view, and go fight Petr Yan,” he said.
Several bantamweights have targeted Cruz, looking to leverage his credibility as a former champ to boost their own. He doesn’t pay much attention to those. The more important thing is that he’s fully ready for a fight.
“I never say no to opponents,” he said. “I say no to dates or yes to dates. I don’t know who’s saying what. I get called out every week. It’s really important that I focus on dates. Once I set the date, once I set the opponent, boom, we hit the races. But until then, I’ve done my whole career as a world champion worrying who’s next, who’s next, overtraining – that’s how you get hurt. You’ve got to keep it one date at at time, and realistically, the date matters more than your opponent for anybody out there. Pick that date, and if you’re the best in the world, you’ll beat them.”