Michael Chiesa believes Dominick Cruz can create another lasting memory on Saturday night, but he will certainly have his hands full.
The longtime former bantamweight champion will look to recapture UFC gold for the third time when he challenges Henry Cejudo in the co-main event of UFC 249. The event takes place Saturday night at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla.
Cruz hasn’t competed since he lost the 135-pound strap to Cody Garbrandt at UFC 207 nearly three and a half years ago. After recovering from shoulder surgery, “The Dominator” has the chance to once again prove his quotable theory right: “There’s no such thing as ring rust.”
Long layoffs are nothing new to Cruz. After nearly a three year layoff from October 2011 to September 2014, he returned with an impressive finish of Takeya Mizugaki in just over a minute at UFC 178. Just under 16 months later, the Alliance MMA standout defeated TJ Dillashaw to become champion once again.
Can Cruz provide yet another miraculous comeback story? Chiesa believes it is possible.
“If there’s anybody who can come back off this long layoff and win it’s gonna be Dominick Cruz,” Chiesa told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck. “One thing that Dominick has that these other guys don’t is the way he moves and his footwork. If you watched when he fought TJ Dillashaw, his movement can draw guys into missing a lot of strikes and he’s one of the few guys in the UFC who can win off of defense.
“You don’t really see that in mixed martial arts. You see that in boxing. You see guys in boxing win fights with defense, making guys miss, countering and things like that. I feel like Dominick is the only guy off the top of my head that wins fights off of defense.
“If he can get Cejudo missing and do that bull vs. matador type of stuff, he has a really legit chance to win this fight. If anybody can do it, it’s Dominick Cruz.”
Chiesa knows how mentally strong the challenger is heading into Saturday night. Of course, Cruz’s return against Cejudo is a big story on a loaded fight card.
Cejudo has been on an absolute tear as of late—a five-fight winning streak, which includes one of the greatest three-fight streaks in UFC history. Following wins over Wilson Reis and Sergio Pettis, “The Messenger” defeated Demetrious Johnson to become only the second flyweight champion in company history at UFC 227. Five months later, the Olympic gold medalist took on, then, bantamweight champion Dillashaw in his first title defense. In just 32-seconds, Cejudo was successful.
At UFC 238, “Triple C” was born when he defeated Marlon Moraes via third-round TKO to capture the bantamweight title and join the short list of simultaneous multi-division champions.
As impressive of a feat it would be for Cruz to get his hand raised, the no. 8 ranked UFC welterweight believes he certainly has a tough challenge ahead of him in Cejudo.
“I think people lose sight of the fact that… yeah, it’s unfortunate. He’s probably been the most cursed guy,” Chiesa explained. “I know he doesn’t like to say cursed because he’s so mentally tough. He does not want sympathy from anybody. If you ever talk to the guy, he’s like, ‘What’s the curse? Life challenged me to overcome these things.’ That’s going to benefit him in this fight.
“He’s just going against the ‘Triple C’ though.
“A lot of people would hate that I say this, but (Cejudo) is one of the best combat sports athletes of all-time,” Chiesa continued. “I might be biased because he’s a wrestler, but Dominick Cruz has a legit chance to win this fight.”
When it comes to UFC 249, it’s difficult to get even more enthused for the main event between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje for the UFC interim lightweight title. With these two fighters—along with the stakes—involved, the formula is there for fireworks.
From a storyline perspective, it’s hard to find a more compelling fight than Cejudo vs. Cruz. As far as a prediction goes, Chiesa can’t pick a winner per se, but he seems to slightly be teetering in the direction of the challenger based on how long he sees the fight lasting.
All in all, “Maverick” sees a path to victory for both fighters regardless of how long it lasts.
“I think no matter what, it’s gonna go to a decision and that’s risky business for Cejudo,” Chiesa. “In my opinion, unless you can blow Dominick out like Cody Garbrandt did, it’s really tough to win a decision against Dominick. If Cejudo wants to win this fight, he has to make Dominick lead the dance. That’s one thing Cody did really well: if you can make Dominick lead, you counter him and you have a better chance of winning the fight.
“We’ll see how that one pans out because that one’s going to be interesting.”