Dominick Cruz became the consensus number 1 bantamweight when he first won the WEC strap back in 2010. He has defended that belt twice with the promotion, and twice more as the UFC titlist, establishing himself as one of the most unique and promising champions in the sport. Multiple injuries have sidelined him for almost 3 years, and not only did he lose the belt without suffering a defeat, he also lost millions in potential paydays.
Here's Dave Meltzer painting an image on how much he lost even during one of several fights that he would've been in had he remained healthy. From F4WOnline.com (Subscription Required):
Cruz has had the worst career luck of anyone. He was 26 years old, had a 19-1 record, and was considered one of the best fighters in the sport as bantamweight champion and having made four successful title defenses. He was set for a title defense against Urijah Faber on the July 2012 show coming off Ultimate Fighter when he tore his ACL a few weeks before the fight. Besides an injury that required major surgery, missing that date cost him millions. Faber vs. Cruz was part of a show with Anderson Silva vs Chael Sonnen. That show did 925,000 buys, and if you had loaded it with another title match, it would have probably topped 1 million. Cruz had a percentage, and we’re talking his cut would have been way into the seven figures, basically the kind of money that bantamweights aren’t’ going to make. He then blew out his knee again, and suffered a groin injury, and it will be three years since his last fight if he gets through camp and can take the Mizugaki fight. If Cruz wins, he’d be likely to face ether Faber or the winner of T.J. Dillashaw vs. Renan Barao.
Apart from losing a huge payday in that UFC 148 card, there were also several bouts that would've been scheduled for him during that stretch which meant several sponsorship opportunities, and even more paydays and pay-per-view bonuses. More importantly, this layoff will also cost him about 3 years in a sporting career that already has a very short shelf life.
Other sports also have their share of young stars going down to serious injuries, but unlike guys like Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill or Greg Oden, MMA doesn't have that luxury of having guaranteed multi-million dollar paydays regardless if they ever compete again. Losing all that time and potential earnings while sidelined to injury is tragic, and it speaks of how people in MMA should really make the most of their bargaining power and maximize their earnings.
It's unfortunate that a fighter as unique and talented as Cruz had suffered all these set backs, but in a landscape where most fighters wouldn't be able to stay afloat going that long without a fight, he at least was lucky enough to be part of the select few who can make a living outside the cage, be it from broadcast duties, seminars, or other ventures.
Cruz will finally get his chance to get back on the horse when he faces Takeya Mizugaki on a highly anticipated PPV headlined by Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson 2. He may have lost an insane amount of time and money that he will never get back, but at 28 years of age, he is still young enough to take advantage of newer opportunities if he can remain healthy. With a game heavily predicated on speed and movement though, how will the layoff and the multiple injuries will affect his performance moving forward?