It has been over 1000 days since Dominick Cruz last stepped into a UFC octagon. During that three-year spell on the sidelines, the longtime WEC and UFC champion was forced to surrender his title and watch as other competitors advanced their career, honed their crafts and became full-fledged champions.
While he admits that being at a UFC Fight Week without the title is an odd sensation, he does not doubt that he is still the best bantamweight on the planet.
"The belt is just a piece of metal. I've still got it in my heart," Cruz told MMAFighting.com's Ariel Helwani. "I still consider myself one of the best on the planet. You have to believe that about yourself."
While many fans and pundits simply hope that Cruz has not lost a step during his exile from competition, "The Dominator" believes he has made some "vast improvements" during his time away from fighting.
"I defiantly think I've made some vast improvements because these injuries have forced me to focus on other aspects because I couldn't hop around so much. I've really worked on my grappling, I've worked on these weird, unconventional things that you can't really work on because you wouldn't have seen it if you were 100-percent healthy."
To clarify his point, Cruz used an example of sporting legend Muhammad Ali, who made a successful comeback following a three-year stint away from boxing.
"If Muhammad Ali can do it, so can I."