WASHINGTON, Aug. 22, 2011 – There’s no denying Dominick “The Dominator” Cruz is one of the most untouchable fighters in mixed martial arts (MMA). Since debuting as a professional combatant in 2005, he’s run roughshod through the 126-135 lb. Bantamweight division, destroying 18 opponents and suffering a single loss.
A large part of Cruz’s success comes from his whirlwind speed and relentless endurance, a combo which has given him his current nine win streak as the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s Bantamweight Champion.
I cornered the cage fighter recently at Team Lloyd Irvin Dojo in Arlington, Virginia and questioned him about topics ranging from his training philosophy to his upcoming title defense in the District.
Thanks for taking a break from training to speak with me. How did you first become interested in mixed martial arts?
Dominick Cruz: I got started with MMA when I was coaching a wrestling team out of Tucson, AZ. One of my students started at a local gym and said ‘you’ve got to come check this out man – you can punch, you can kick, you can roll, you can grapple, you can do everything.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m not much of a puncher but I’ll give it a try.’ I went in and got to do a boxing class, fell in love with it, and the next thing I know I’m sparring a month later.
From there, I was training and six months later I had my first fight and started winning matches. It was one thing after another. I feel fighting chose me.
You previously competed in World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC), which has since merged with Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). How has the transition between the two organizations gone for you and how do you feel about the league you currently compete in?
Cruz: I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, and on top of that, I think it’s awesome. The WEC was the best preparation going into UFC I could have ever had. It’s like going from college football to the NFL. Not that the WEC wasn’t top-tier talent – it was – but it didn’t have the same media coverage. That’s what makes the difference. The level of talent in WEC was just like the UFC, but it let me take baby steps into the media flood that accompanies fighting in the UFC.
You’re the UFC’s first-ever Bantamweight Champion. How does it feel being a part of UFC history like that?
Cruz: It’s unbelievable. I’ve made history a few times. I got to be the first Bantamweight champion in the UFC, I got to retire the WEC Bantamweight title, and I was even the first UFC Bantamweight champion who got to headline a card over heavier fighters like Tito Ortiz, Wanderlei Silva, Chris Leben, and the like. It was a dream that came true.
You’ve won your last nine matches. What do you credit as the main reason behind your dominance and success in the bantamweight division?
Cruz: What’s made me successful, I think, is my brain. I don’t think I know everything and I try to learn something new every day. I think I can learn something from every opponent in my division, even the guys who are brand new and just coming in. I’ll sit and watch them and look at what they’re doing to keep up with the game. A lot of these guys are up-and-comers that are the next evolution of the game, bottom line. I’m stealing from them and trying to evolve my game so that it evolves with me.
Your last fight was in July and marked the first-ever defense of the UFC bantamweight title. It was also a rematch where you avenged your only career loss to Urijah Faber. Having had time to reflect on that bout, how do you feel about it now?
Cruz: It was a cool and unbelievable experience. It was something to reflect on and know what I’m capable of and what level I can compete at. The hype and media was what made it different from other fights I’d had.
The UFC’s Bantamweight Division is relatively new. What do you think it gives UFC fans that they didn’t have before?
Cruz: I hope that it changes everything. I feel like my fight with Faber was a way to put the Bantamweight and Featherweight divisions on notice to say, ‘Hey, you guys are just as good, just as talented as any other guy in the UFC.’ It was a way of making a statement in a fight and letting people know we’re here. We can set the bar for everybody else in the UFC.
Everything in sports takes time. You can’t just rush into things. It’s taken the UFC ten years to get to where it’s at, and it’s taken the lighter weight classes three years to get to where they’re at. That’s actually very fast if you think about it. I’m happy with it and think it’s going well.
Your next match is in October and will be a defense of your title against Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson. What are your thoughts on the challenger?
Cruz: I’ve learned from my next opponent Demetrious Johnson that size doesn’t always matter. He gives up a considerable amount of size and weight yet makes it work for him. He in many ways reaffirms my style is a good style as his style is very similar to mine. He uses your own weight against you, your own strength, and knows how to create pockets people fall into to set up his offense.
How are you preparing for that bout?
Cruz: You’ve got to consider the person you’re fighting and decide what sequences will work against that opponent as opposed to those that won’t and make adjustments accordingly for each fight.
As someone with a life-long interest in MMA, what would you say makes a great fight?
Cruz: I think what makes a good fight for the fans is a technical fight where everyone is trying to finish the match from beginning to end. Whether someone gets dropped, bloodied, cut, they’re always trying to finish the bout. It’s about going, going, going, and never sitting still. The fans aren’t paying to see guys rest. They’ll never see me rest or Demetrious Johnson rest or most of the guys in our weight class rest.
Is there a particular match of yours that sticks out as your favorite?
Cruz: My last match with Faber was the best match I’ve ever had. That was the best feeling I’ve ever had, avenging my only loss against him. I wanted that win, I dreamt about that win, I thought about that win for four years and went in and actually got it. I’d been waiting for it, I was pumped. Watch the pre-fight video of me. You could see it in my face.
I like the grind. I’m glad we went five rounds. I would have loved to finish him with a knockout, but I look forward to that kind of war every time I fight. That’s how you learn about yourself and gain new experience through battle. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
What tips do you have for other people interested in competing in MMA professionally?
Cruz: I would say my biggest tip is my motto, ‘Cardio will make a coward of us all.’ I don’t care how talented or good you are, if you get tired, you will lose every single time.
You recently opened a new gym in El Cajon, California. Will you be mixing it up with any new trainers there?
Cruz: I’m trying to get some new people out to my camp so I can mix it up with some new styles. It’s awesome to have another school and another source of income and something to look forward to when all is said and done with my fight career. It’s something to fall back on and for me to give back to the MMA community.
I don’t run it, that’s what beautiful about it. I opened it and have used my success in the sport to promote it. I have a great team there that helps me run the gym and our camps there. Right now, I am 100% focused on Demetrious Johnson.
Do you do any other sports outside of MMA?
Cruz: Absolutely man. I love basketball and golf. I wouldn’t call what I do playing golf, but rather trying to shank a ball off the green. I love sports in general. I am always being active, that’s my thing. I like playing other sports to keep my mind off of MMA. Even then, it’s still not a waste of time as I’m improving my body in some way.
What do you hope to accomplish next in your UFC career?
Cruz: I want another W, another win. It’s not a hope for me but a fact.
You can read Johnson’s take on their fight here.
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