It was a huge card for World Extreme Cagefighting. Just three months earlier, the California-based fight promotion had been purchased by Zuffa, parent company of the UFC. It was March 2007, and nearly 2,000 fans were packed into the special events center at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for WEC 26, which featured not one, not two, but three title bouts.
Great for the fans. Not so great for the company's graphic designer.
Why not so great? Well, every event has a hype-it-up publicity poster depicting the main-event combatants standing toe to toe, fist to fist, scowl to scowl. But with three title tilts to tout, what was the WEC supposed to do? How many staredowns can you fit on one poster?
It was decided that Carlos Condit and John Alessio, who were to vie for the vacant welterweight championship in the main event, would face off on the top half of the poster. Down below would be the scowling (or at least stern) visages of just the defending champs in the evening's other title bouts, Eddie Wineland at bantamweight and Urijah Faber at featherweight.
This did not sit well with Faber's opponent, a headstrong 21-year-old named Dominick Cruz. He was 9-0, and even though this was his WEC debut, he'd been deemed worthy of a title shot. But apparently the promotion considered him no match for Faber, at least in terms of selling a fight.
"I wasn't even on the event poster and I was fighting him for a world title," Cruz told MMAjunkie.com. "That really got under my skin."
So Cruz proceeded to get under Faber's skin. At prefight publicity appearances, whenever he was asked to autograph a WEC 26 poster, Cruz signed his name right over Faber's face, obscuring the Cary Grant cleft chin and everything.
Now, the telling of this prefight anecdote took longer than the actual fight. A little more than a minute in, Cruz lunged forward for a takedown and Faber locked on a guillotine choke, eliciting a tapout at 1:38.
But while the fight was over, the battle waged on. Over the four years since, Faber and Cruz have traded low blows in derisive media interviews, sarcastic YouTube videos, 140-character assassinations on Twitter and indignant letters to the editor in
Faber, having moved down to bantamweight, will be fighting for another championship. Cruz, who has not lost since the Faber fight and now owns the UFC bantamweight title, will be fighting for redemption.
Although the other fighter will walk into the cage in possession of the belt this time, Faber (25-4) doesn't expect much to change from the 2007 meeting.
"Our first fight, I wasn't impressed by the guy at all," he said in a UFC video. "He wasn't a terrible fighter, but there wasn't anything that stood out. He's changed, but the thing that hasn't changed is that he's not dangerous. It's ironic that a guy, especially with the name Dominick 'The Dominator' Cruz, isn't dominating anyone. He should be called 'The Irritator' or 'The Eluder,' not 'Dominator.' "
True, that's from a promotional hype video whose sole purpose is trash talk, but Faber does hit on a salient point. Cruz is as speedy and elusive as the Road Runner, but he doesn't pack the punch of a Yosemite Sam six-shooter. Cruz (17-1) began his career with TKOs in four of his first six minor-promotion bouts, but his last real KO came in 2008. He did win the WEC belt in 2010 by TKO, but it was a doctor's stoppage after Brian Bowles broke his hand and could not continue. And speaking of broken hands, Cruz is coming off surgery to repair one. It's not unreasonable for an aggressive guy like Faber to believe he can walk right through this guy.
Except that no one walks through Cruz. You can lurch forward and take your best shot, but he's just going to step out of the way and land three punches while your fists are touching nothing but air. In terms of hitting while not being hit, Cruz is indeed "The Dominator." In his last fight, according to FightMetric statistics, he held Scott Jorgenson to a tepid 20 percent effectiveness with strikes, including just 9 percent in the fifth round. Cruz doesn't stop moving.
But what about moving his fists? "Bottom line is, my hand is feeling better," Cruz said in an interview with AOL's Ariel Helwani in April. "I'm able to punch people again." He paused to make a fist and hold it up near his face, which broke into a smile. "And it should fit just nice right in the middle of Urijah's chin."
Oh, and Cruz made the publicity poster this time.
Faber has always been the faster man in a fight. That will not be the case this time. But he will be the stronger fighter, so if he can get his hands on Cruz -- in the form of either a fist to the chin or a secure clutch while grappling -- he will be at an advantage. It's easier said than done, though, even if Faber shows no fear of Cruz's power and sticks his neck out, takes some chances. Will Faber's relentless pressure pay dividends, maybe not in the first or second round but in the -- deep breath -- championship rounds? Or will Cruz stay elusive for 25 minutes -- overdrive minutes that'll feel like five to the fans, 45 to the fighters? If the latter is the case, Cruz's pitter-patter of punches will ring up an awful lot of points.
A title bout always is special. So is a grudge match. Put the two together, and you have a potentially explosive combination. Of course, Cruz doesn't want explosive. Explosions hurt. He wants every bomb that Faber throws to be a dud. But the heat will be on. Open a window and bask in it.
• "I want to get that UFC belt. Dominick, if you're out there, hide your kids, hide your wife, hide that UFC belt, baby. I'm coming for it."
• You can't make everybody like you. He's playing the card of, 'Oh, Dominick chose me as his enemy; he's a horrible guy; this and that.' Whatever. Bottom line is, I'm just here to fight and prove that I'm the best. To be honest, I was thinking about squashing the whole thing and inviting Urijah to come to Alliance MMA and train with us. That way I could be personally assured that he's ready for this fight against [Eddie] Wineland, and that way I can be the one to go in there and put my hand through his face."
• "People are always asking, 'Why don't you like him?' There's a bunch of little things, but the bottom line is I just don't think he's that cool. And whether he want to complain and think that I'm trying to tarnish his name or whatever, I'm just being honest, dude. That's the way it is, and you know, get the chip off your shoulder. Who cares what I think? You're a UFC world champ, you're a young guy, you're good looking, you've got the UFC title for another four months before I swipe it from you ..."
• "Me and Urijah have had our differences. I don't think it's really a secret. He's done a lot of videos on YouTube and whatnot that kind of made me a little angry. I've said some things about him that made him a little angry. We pretty much can't wait to punch each other in the face, is what it comes down to."
• "I have a hard time being enemies with people. Dominick has made it easy. He's got an interesting combo of throwing himself pity parties and feeling sorry for himself, but also giving himself a lot of credit for little things. What's going to happen at the end of this -- can he handle another loss and can he be cool?"
• "I don't hate the guy -- I don't wish him ill will -- I just want to go prove that I'm a better fighter than him. We're not going to hang out at the after-party."