Crash Course to UFC Fight Night 81: T.J. Dillashaw takes on Dominick Cruz

3:50 | MMA
T.J. Dillashaw, Dominick Cruz talk trash ahead of title fight
Thursday January 14th, 2016

Everything you need to know about this weekend's big fight between T.J. Dillashaw and Dominick Cruz.

Overview

Demetrious Johnson was not the UFC flyweight champion on this night, because there was no such thing as a UFC flyweight division. When “Mighty Mouse” stepped into the Octagon in October 2011, he was an undersized bantamweight challenging Dominick Cruz for the 135-pound belt, which itself was only a year old.

The fight was televised on a cable channel that no longer airs UFC fights. That’s because there is no longer a channel called Versus; it’s since been rebranded as NBC Sports Network, and there’s no UFC there, either, because a month after Cruz vs. Johnson, the UFC made its debut on Fox.

This history lesson is brought to you by the anterior cruciate ligament.

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Cruz was cruising along back in those days, having been the king of bantamweights for a year and a half, his reign bridging the weight class’s transition from the old WEC to the UFC. When he won a unanimous decision over “Mighty Mouse,” it was his 10th straight victory. His next booking was as a coach in The Ultimate Fighter reality show, with the plan being to defend his belt against his opposing coach, Urijah Faber.

But before that fight could take place, everything fell apart. And fell apart. And fell apart.

First, in May 2012, Cruz tore the ACL in his left knee. Then, that December, he underwent a second ACL surgery after it was deemed that the first had been unsuccessful. Then, after rehabilitation of over a year, in January 2014, Cruz was pulled from his scheduled comeback fight because of a groin tear. He was stripped of his belt.

That strap resided around the waist of Renan Barão for four months, until he stepped in the Octagon with a fighter barely ranked in the bantamweight Top 10. T.J. Dillashaw was about an 8-1 underdog for that UFC 173 main event, and his supporters cashed in on that night in May 2014. Dillashaw knocked down and almost finished the champ in the first round, then completed the job midway through the fifth. And new …

So here’s what we have on Sunday night at TD Garden in Boston (10 p.m., Fox Sports 1): champion vs. champion.

Rey Del Rio/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Sure, Dillashaw is the only man who’ll be the owner of a shiny brass-and-leather strap. At 12-2, the 29-year-old Californian is the winner of four straight fights, including another knockout of the once-unassailable Barão in their rematch. He ranks No. 1 in the SI.com bantamweight rankings and is No. 8 in our pound-for-pound tally. He’s the champ.

But Cruz (20-1) is a champ, too. He may no longer have the belt to prove it, but he never lost it in the cage. The 30-year-old, also from California, has beaten every fighter he’s faced. His lone loss was to Faber, and “The Dominator” beat him in their rematch. Despite fighting just once in the last four years, Cruz ranks No. 2 in the SI.com bantamweight rankings. He’s never been dethroned, and always been confident.

In addition to the Fox Sports 1 telecast of Sunday night’s four-fight main card, four prelims will be shown on the same channel, starting at 8 p.m. ET, and the event’s first five bouts will be available on the UFC Fight Pass online service at 7. (The non-Fight Pass bouts also will be aired on Fox Deportes with Spanish commentary.)


Background

Among Dominick Cruz’s victories, one came against Urijah Faber and two against Joseph Benavidez. Both are part of Team Alpha Male, and until recently, T.J. Dillashaw trained at that Sacramento, Calif., gym as well.

Dillashaw had a very public, and somewhat ugly, separation from Alpha Male. It was his choice to follow his coach, Duane Ludwig, to his Colorado facility. However, the champ expected to be able to train at Alpha Male when he was home in Sacramento. Faber, the team’s founder and leader, wouldn’t hear of it.

So it’s not only Cruz who’s in an uncomfortable position. Sure, he’s been inactive for the last four years, but Dillashaw has been separated from the team that made him who he is. 


Last Five Fights

Dillashaw

Cruz

7/25/15 Renan Barão W TKO 4

9/27/14 Takeya Mizugaki W TKO 1

8/30/14 Joe Soto W TKO 5

10/1/11 Demetrious Johnson W UD 5

5/24/14 Renan Barão W TKO 5

7/2/11 Urijah Faber W UD 5

1/15/14 Mike Easton W UD 3

12/16/10 Scott Jorgensen W UD 5

10/9/13 Raphael Assuncao L SD 3

8/18/10 Joseph Benavidez W SD 5

Dillashaw

 

CruZ

Feb. 7, 1986

BIRTH DATE

March 9, 1985

Angels Camp, Calif.

BIRTHPLACE

San Diego, Calif.

Denver, Colo.

RESIDENCE

San Diego, Calif.

13-2

RECORD

20-1

135*

WEIGHT

135*

5’6

HEIGHT

5'8

67”

REACH

68”

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