The Cruz-Faber feud lives on
Scotch-taped to a window looking out on gray Chula Vista, Calif., roughly superimposed photocopies off the Internet make it appear as if Dominick Cruz is a blink away from slamming Urijah Faber's face with an overhand right.
This is where Cruz, the UFC bantamweight champion, sprints. It's also the vantage from which he's viewed the world the past four years -- sweating on his favorite treadmill or not.
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If Urijah Faber were here to make a comment, he'd smile and wonder why his face hadn't been defiled by Cruz's autograph. That's, after all, how it began.
Four years ago, Faber was the man. In the most classic way Cruz despised him for it. When they met in Las Vegas in March 2007, Faber was in the midst of his best run as a fighter, a big enough star that he alone represented their pending 145-pound title fight on the poster. No one, least of all Faber, knew a thing about Cruz, a Tucson kid moving up from local shows in Arizona and San Diego, and he aimed to do something about it.
Dominick Cruz: "I already knew who he was because everyone knew who he was at that point. I already had my mind that that's just the guy I want to beat up. Plain and simple. He's the guy to beat."
Urijah Faber: "My first impression of the guy came when I was signing the posters we give to charity and the ones the fighters take home. I saw his signature written over my face and I was thinking I don't know this guy. I've been really cool with the guys I've fought. This is weird. This guy must be a real d-----bag."
Theo Faber, Urijah's father: "I definitely remember Urijah saying Dominick was 'kind of a d-----bag.'"
Brandon Vera, longtime teammate of Cruz at Alliance MMA: "Dominick is so laid-back and easy going. I knew Urijah from back in the day. I thought those guys would get along great. But Urijah felt disrespected by Dom. I didn't think it was a big deal but it turned into something vicious."
Cruz: "I [had] just met Eddie Wineland for the first time and Eddie goes up to Urijah and says 'Hey, how you doing?' Urijah kinda thinks I'm just with Wineland at this point. Wineland says, 'Hey, this is Dominick Cruz,' and introduces me to Faber. I know who I'm fighting but Faber doesn't know me because I'm nobody. There's no picture of me on the poster -- go figure -- so how's he going to recognize me? He goes, 'Oh, you're the guy I'm fighting.' And right off the bat, I can't explain it, that's where the rivalry started."
Tommy Schurkamp, Faber's friend of 13 years and right-hand man: "This is a rarity. Urjiah is an easy-going guy who doesn't dislike anyone. But Dominick struck a spark in him. Urijah literally thinks Dominick chose him as an enemy. At the time Dominick wanted to take the championship from Urjiah; [he] wanted to get under his skin and he did a good job of it."
Cruz: "He's trying to say I hate him and I made him my enemy. I don't know. He's just bouncing around the blame. The way I look at it is we've had our rivalry and that's exactly what it is. I don't absolutely hate the guy. I don't wish him ill will. I just want to beat him and prove that I'm better and get that loss back. I have something to prove to myself and everyone around the world, and he's the guy to beat to do that."
Their fight finished 98 seconds in when Faber latched onto -- and held on to well past the tap -- a guillotine choke from the mount. The win pushed Faber to 18-1 and unearthed Cruz's first loss in 10 fights.
Faber: "It was only a minute and a half. He didn't seem terrible to me but not much happened. He talked about wanting to stand up and I caught him with a straight right and a couple of knees. I aggressively threw a hook-straight combo that I overshot because I was coming so hard. He went for the takedown and that was pretty much the end of the fight."
Cruz: "I just knew that I was going to see him again. That was my first thought. After I fought him I was in the back [locker room], naturally pretty sad about losing. I was young; this was my first loss ... this is nothing ... a learning experience, I thought to myself. I needed to go through this. I'll never forget, he walked through the hall and I was sitting with my coaches. I'm looking at the floor and he kind of paused and gave me a look. I don't know if he'll remember but I do because it's stuck in my head ever since. He looks at me in the room and gives me a smug look, like I shouldn't have bothered trying. He didn't like me either. He thought I was a punk kid and made his judgments about me at that point; didn't think I was worthwhile to even be fighting him."
Eric Del Fierro, Cruz's trainer: "At the time Dominick was a beginner. He really was. Tough kid, good wrestling. He had a good record and that was enough to get him a title shot. We looked at the lesser of two evils and said let's go straight for the belt. We have more to gain, nothing to lose. Realistically that's how that fight got made. As big as the fight was for somebody like Dominick, who'd been fighting on local shows, had never been to Vegas, had never been out of Tucson, had just moved to San Diego, in a way all these guys try to find a way to cope with the pressure of these events. His way of coping with it was just to make fun about it. He had to laugh, because, really, the poster was a joke. You're the main event (Note: it was the co-main) and your picture is nowhere near there? It's just small letters on the bottom. When it started it wasn't to piss off Faber. It was more to say this is how I'm going to deal with it, and I don't care. If it pisses Faber off, oh well."
Cruz: "It was bigger than that for me. It was getting my mind in the fight. It was knowing I belonged there. There's more to it than anyone can understand. As stupid as it sounds, it's bigger than trying to screw Urijah Faber. It wasn't like that. When I signed his face it was like saying, 'No one signs on my face, I'm Urijah Faber!" I mean we're fighting anyways, man. I'm sorry if you took it personally. I can understand it. I don't take it back. I don't feel bad about it. We still fought. We're going to fight again. It was 4½ years ago, let it go."
Joseph Benavidez, bantamweight contender, Faber's Alpha Male teammate in Sacramento (0-2 against Cruz): "He came back talking about the kid being a punk. People in the gym would do pranks to Faber joking about how Cruz signed over his face. When Cruz dropped down to 135, Faber talked about him and said, 'God, that's one guy I just don't like.'"
Faber: "California is a small place, especially in the MMA world, especially back then. The bottom line is you hear about his talking and being disrespectful. I heard he had my poster in his gym drawing on it. I heard him talking about he should have beat me and all this stuff. And I'm thinking who is this guy? Disrespectful before. Disrespectful after. He's not on my mind but he's dwelling on stuff and I have to hear it from friends in the area. I was helping my friends do a show out in Tijuana, Mexico, and they had my poster up. He'd written all over it. I was just thinking what is this guy's issue?"
Cruz: "I feel it's normal. It would be one thing if I was wishing death upon the guy or saying horrible, crazy things about him. This is about being competitive. This is about winning. We're fighting, for God's sake. I feel like this is the way it's supposed to be. A lot of fights nowadays, there's so much pressure for them to perform that the easiest way for them to relieve the pressure is to hug before the fight or between rounds. That won't happen with me and Faber. We're going out there to beat the crap out of each other and it's going to be a fight."
Del Fierro: "Faber is a good chameleon. A good salesman. He's a different person backstage.
"We started getting more animosity from Faber and that camp after Dom's win against Charlie Valencia. I knew they were involved in that camp. The more Dominick moved up the ranks, the more they knew Dom would be matched against Joseph Benavidez. We got offered the fight and at that time if Dom got past Benavidez he'd get a title shot. Zuffa said we could have Benavidez or go another route. Obviously I'm biased but I thought Dominick beat Benavidez all three rounds. At that time Benavidez was the next big thing. When you have a superstar like Faber saying this is the guy coming out of my camp that's a monster, the media listens, the UFC listens, everybody listens. For someone like Dominick, who's coming up the hard way, it puts pressure on him. There has to be ways to deal with these pressures because he starts believing the hype. In a couple of interviews that Dominick did, he said he would outpace Benavidez. And Benavidez beats everyone by outpacing them. The media laughed and Dominick went in there and did it. Against Brian Bowles he said he would stand and punch. Same thing, everyone laughed. Dominick has a certain way of dealing with the pressure of fights. What people don't expect him to do, would think he wouldn't do, he does to challenge himself. I think that whole writing on the poster and pissing off Faber was more his way of dealing with it. He figured Faber will notice me somehow. If it's not by my fighting ability, it'll be by my signature. I think after Dominick beat Benavidez the first time, Faber found a niche there to hate him."
Cruz: "He's tried to coach his guys to beat me and he hasn't figured out how to coach his guys to a win. And I know he's tried hard. And I know he loves the guys he's trained with and helped get ready for me. I know he loves them like brothers. I know he put his heart into training camps getting ready for me. I think it just eats at him a little bit, makes him mad I beat some of his friends. Me and Benavidez have nothing but respect for one another, and that's his best friend."
One month after the official announcement of their July 2 rematch, Cruz and Faber were unwittingly assigned to two days' worth of UFC PR duty at Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps' largest West Coast training facility. They joined Phil Davis and Rich Franklin for video shoots and Corps-inspired competitions, including the aggressive swinging of big padded sticks. Aware enough to switch things up, Davis and Franklin went after the bantamweights themselves rather than letting Cruz and Faber have a spar.
Phil Davis, teammate of Cruz, student of Fierro and friend of Faber: "It was so weird. I get there and see Dominick and Urijah are supposed to work together."
Benavidez: "I found out about it by their picture on Twitter. I was like, What the heck, Cruz and Faber are hanging out?"
Cruz: "We walked out of a meeting and showed up at the same elevator at the same time, just us two, looked at each other and laughed. Of all the places, of all the meetings, of all the things we could be doing, we end up here. Then all of a sudden a lady came sprinting back thinking we were going to fight right there."
Faber: "The first 30 minutes of that was us coming to the realization that we'd need to spend a lot of time together."
Vera: "Urijah and Dom were staring at each other trying to be nice but it was hard. The only reason they were nice is because they were in front of a lot of military people."
Cruz: "Even though we might not like each other; even though we want to beat the crap out of each other, we're professionals. That's how we took the whole weekend. I got to know him better. He got to know me better. We came to understand we're competitive human beings with something to prove to ourselves. You couldn't have put Tito [Ortiz] and Chuck [Liddell] in the same place like that; they would have ended up fighting. Me and Faber are different types of people. We both basically get along with everybody but we don't get along because we have a history."
Theo Faber: "Urjiah said he was forced to be there with Dominick and they had to be cordial with one another. I think for all Dominick's bravado he'd really like Urjiah to be one of his friends."
Schurkamp: "He thinks Dominick is lost. He feels Dominick has a chip on his shoulder and he doesn't know why. Urijah is a positive guy and focuses on being positive. He thinks Dominick focuses on the negative."
Faber: "He's got a weird combination of feeling sorry for himself and giving himself credit for things."
Cameras rolled on the base, UFC's relationship with the military in action, and banter was inevitable. Always looking through that window in Chula Vista, Cruz suggested "maybe we should get on tape me hauling off and punching Urijah in the face," recalled the threatened party, one "California Kid."
Faber: "I said, 'Yeah, I can pretend it hurts.' Everybody was laughing."
Cruz: "It goes back and forth. All you can do is laugh about it but mean it at the same time."
Faber: "Then there's going to be a boiling point: We're going to get to hit each other in the face. Being around Dominick will be a lot of motivation. I think I have his number."
While Cruz (17-1) finds it unthinkable that Faber (25-4) could hold an edge over him, they do share a consensus on the nature of their quarrel.
Cruz: "The big reason Urijah and I bump heads so much is we share a lot of the same mind processes and thoughts. We don't get along because we're a lot alike. 'You spot it, you got it' is what I heard from a smarter older person one time. If you see something in someone that annoys you, it's probably because you've got it yourself."
Faber: "There are similarities between us. The truth is he is a champion. Beating a guy like Joseph Benavidez, even though it was a close decision the last time, says a lot. I train with Joseph and I know what he's made of. I got to see things about Dominick Cruz that are about why he's champion. Those are things we share. But I think the real [problem] between us is all on his part because he saw somebody he didn't know and it's been eating him up. Even when he's champion I feel he's still jealous of me. Well, here's his chance."
Cruz: "This fight is going to settle a lot of things for both of us. We're mellow-tempered guys for the most part, but I feel the competitive edge has definitely brought out the wolves in both of us. I think what happened is you're seeing the other side of both of us, and that doesn't happen often."
Faber: "If you had my internal voice going and everyone could hear what I'm saying when I'm in the cage about ready to fight, it's not the nicest things -- for anybody I'm fighting. I go to that place in the cage, but I also happen to be in that place outside the cage also with this guy."
Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.
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