Commentary

Cruz defends belt, picks up another

Originally Published: July 4, 2011
By Josh Gross | ESPN.com

Just so I have this straight, Urijah Faber lost to a white belt on Saturday?

Dominick Cruz's in-cage promotion from "beginner" by Brazilian jiu-jitsu coach Lloyd Irvin will go down as a classic footnote in his rivalry with Faber, the only fighter to hold a win over the current UFC bantamweight champion. Much more important than the anecdote and nifty new blue belt, obviously, are the fights, and their rematch will go own as one of the most satisfying contests of the year.

You just sort of get a sense for these things beforehand. Two competitive and skilled guys who know how at win? Like Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard in January, of course Cruz-Faber 2 was going to be an excellent fight. Fast, competent, unique striking and some of the best wrestling scrambles you'll see in MMA marked the tenor of the 25-minute match. As for jiu-jitsu, the only time we were reminded of it was when Irvin draped a royal blue rope around Cruz's neck.

But c'mon, a white belt?

"No comment," laughed Cruz's head trainer Eric Del Fierro.

So, then, an attempt to show up Faber?

"No comment," he texted. "But it was actually more of a mental thing for Dominick. We knew he could handle Faber on the ground but we needed him to believe it."

[+] EnlargeDominick Cruz and Urijah Faber
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comDominick Cruz took it on the chin more than a few times against Urijah Faber.

Neither bantamweight was interested in spending more time than he had to on his back. Cruz danced and did his thing. Faber was perhaps less aggressive than we've seen him in the past, but that was apparently by design. It looked as if he aimed to catch Cruz coming in and he certainly did not go without his successes.

"It feels like I was in a tornado and I was running into stuff. Dressers and whatnot," said Cruz, who felt Faber's power on more than one occasion.

Yet even Theo Faber, Urijah's dad, admitted that from his couch in Sacramento, it looked like the UFC belt was Cruz's to take home.

"I'm not an easy guy to beat," the 'California Kid' said after dropping his first contest at 135 pounds. "Joseph Benavidez isn't an easy guy to beat. We've got a good champ."

Before the bout, both fighters told me they expected a third contest no matter what happened in Las Vegas this weekend. Now the question is when?

UFC has pegged Brian Bowles or Demetrious Johnson as Cruz's next challenger. Faber, whom Del Fierro deduced was "stronger and more seasoned" than Benavidez, may have to win another one or two in between before getting another chance, but you have to think the trilogy will happen.

"Third fights are always fun especially when they're as good as that one was," said UFC president Dana White. "It was a great fight. A very technical fight. It was MMA at its finest tonight."

That's as true is it can be of a fight without a whiff of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

"Urijah came out to fight and that's what I wanted," Cruz said. "I looked forward to these wars. This is is how I learn about myself. This is how I find out what I'm made of. That's what I'm in this for.

"I want to see what I've got. I proved it tonight. I proved a lot to myself. I proved a lot to the fans around the world."

Proved himself worthy enough, it seems, of a belt promotion.

Beyond the main event, UFC 132 featured several inspired efforts. From A+ to F, here's how the card stacked up:

Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN.

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