After almost four years away from the octagon, Dominick Cruz returned to reclaim the UFC bantamweight title. While he lost to then-champion Henry Cejudo, it appears that the fire to compete is still burning. Now, he is looking to keep the flame bright, regardless of where he is on the card.
At UFC 259, Cruz will main event the prelims against Casey Kenney. Fighting on the prelims for the first time since 2014 against Takeya Mizugaki, in which he returned from another absence, Cruz does not necessarily see this as a demotion. Looking at the main card, which features four champions in three title fights, Cruz knows all eyes will be on the entire event.
It is the perfect time for him to show off.
“That’s probably the most seen position on the entire fight card,” Cruz told ESPN via MMA Junkie. “I’ll have the most eyes on me. Like I said, I’ve had a pretty decent layoff, so let’s get me in front of a lot of eyes is what I’m thinking. At the same time, being on the prelims, that’s an ego thing. I’m not really attached to my ego at this point. I know what I am. I know the things that I’ve accomplished. It doesn’t affect me to be seen more, and I will. I’ll be seen more.”
A former WEC Featherweight and Bantamweight Champion, Cruz made his UFC debut in 2011, beating Urijah Faber. He would vacate the title after beating Demetrious Johnson that year and wouldn’t return until 2014. He beat T.J. Dillashaw to win back the title and beat Faber again. Cruz lost the title to Cody Garbrandt at UFC 207, and then injuries once again affected his career.
Stepping in after a callout by Cejudo, Cruz lost at UFC 249 via TKO after what he believes was a blown call by referee Keith Peterson. Now, the 35-year-old is ready to start over.
Ranked eleventh in the UFC’s bantamweight rankings, Cruz faces an unranked fighter in Kenney. The 29-year-old joined the UFC in 2019 after originally appearing on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2017. A former interim LFA Flyweight Champion, Kenney is on a three-fight win streak, last beating Nathaniel Wood in October.
Kenney has used his words constructively and negatively. He is more popular for the latter after talking about main card fighter Megan Anderson on “The Timbo Sugarshow” podcast. Anderson quickly responded, which resulted in an apology by Kenney.
The constructive way was when Kenney spoke to MMA Sucka about Cruz. As someone who respects Cruz, the 29-year-old is ready for an opportunity to move up in the division. It doesn’t matter to him, however, what the status of Cruz is.
“I’m definitely a fan, but that’s going to be put to the side for March 6,” Kenney stated. “He’s just another guy in front of me in my way for the ultimate goal, which is chasing a belt… Shoot, I think I can out-strike him, out-grapple him and out-fight IQ him. I think I am the future of the sport, and Dominick’s going to have to find out the hard way.”
Kenney (4.79) does have an advantage over Cruz (3.52) when it comes to Significant Strikes Landed per Minute within the octagon. Kenney also has an advantage in total strikes landed (266 compared to 227) in his last three fights. With a defense like Cruz (73% Significant Strike Defense), however, that outshines Kenney’s (59%), Cruz knows how to survive a fight. Will that be enough?
Appearing rejuvenated, Cruz is ready to put on a show. Placed where some of the best in the world have fought, will Cruz be able to impress those watching at home?
“More people tune into that then they will the main card,” Cruz went on to say to ESPN. “I’m right before the main card so everybody is watching that one because it’s the end of the prelims. It’s kind of like the lead-off hitter of a baseball team. That’s usually the fight that people wanna see almost every time they put these fights together. I’m excited to be in that position.”
Will the new blood in Kenney make a statement, or does the old dog in Cruz still have a few tricks up his sleeve?