The last time Dominick Cruz fought in the UFC, the promotion had ongoing contracts with Versus and Spike TV, the flyweight division didn't exist, and Jon Jones was a week removed from his first title defense. After a series of injuries forced Cruz to vacate his bantamweight belt, the former champion is set to make his comeback on September 27th. ESPN's Brett Okamoto confirmed that Cruz will fight top 10 ranked Takeya Mizugaki at UFC 178 in Las Vegas.
Cruz (19-1) was the WEC's last bantamweight champion and had twice defended his UFC belt in 2011 before tearing his ACL and missing all of 2012. Plans to return to the Octagon were squashed when he required ACL surgery yet again, sidelining him for all of 2013. Cruz was supposed to unify his undisputed belt with then-interim champ Renan Barao at UFC 169, but a groin injury forced the 28-year-old to vacate his belt and elevate Barao to undisputed champion.
Mizugaki (20-7-2) had gone through almost an absurd stretch of alternating wins and losses over the course of 9 fights dating back to his WEC stint. But the 30-year-old Japanese fighter has won 5 in a row, including a decision win over Francisco Rivera at UFC 173.
It's quite feasible to think that the winner of this fight gets a title shot, or at least is behind just Raphael Assuncao in the pecking order. Much of this is dependent on how well Cruz looks after such a long layoff with career-altering knee problems. With all due respect to Mizugaki, a healthy Cruz -- that is, the Cruz of 2009-2011 -- would be a significant favorite to win this fight. But there are so many question marks centered around how Cruz will look, and it's a big opportunity for both men to push themselves towards the front of the line in a division lacking contenders.
UFC 178 is headlined by a light heavyweight title fight rematch between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson.