Cruz, a former two-time UFC bantamweight champion, wanted to wait to fight the winner of 135-pound titleholder Cody Garbrandt vs. T.J. Dillashaw, which co-headlines UFC 217 in November. But per the Alliance MMA product, UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby told him that he wouldn’t be offered a title shot without getting back into the winning column. So with recapturing the title on his list of goals, Cruz had no choice but to agree to fight Rivera at UFC 219 later this year.
“I was wanting to wait for that title fight to come back around, and once [Garbrandt and Dillashaw] fight, just jump right back in there and face the winner,” Cruz told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s The MMA Hour. “It only made sense, because I faced T.J. and everybody would want to see me rematch, I think, if he won, and I faced Cody and I think everybody would want to see me rematch if Cody won.
“What it comes down to is that I am not the king of the bantamweight division, Cody’s not the king of the bantamweight division, either; Sean Shelby is. He makes these decisions as to who fights who. And he said, ‘If you don’t fight Jimmie Rivera, Jimmie Rivera and Assuncao would fight and they would get the next title fight, not you.’ So he would end up giving me the loser, probably, of Cody-T.J.”
Ultimately, Cruz, who lost the bantamweight title to Garbrandt by decision at UFC 207 last December, didn’t have much of a problem taking the Rivera fight — especially because a title shot is more than likely on the line.
“Sean Shelby makes the decisions of the matchmaking in this division, so I listened,” Cruz said. “I have never picked a fight my whole career. I’ve never said, ‘This isn’t right, this isn’t that.’ I’m not here to complain. I enjoy fighting, I want to fight, so that’s why I’m doing it.
“This is the next matchup that creates a title shot for me.”
Cruz (22-2), who is ranked No. 9 in the pound-for-pound standings, fights Rivera at UFC 219, which takes place at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Dec. 30. Cruz, the first UFC bantamweight champ, recaptured the title after a long period of inactivity due to injuries in early 2016 with a win over Dillashaw. “The Dominator,” 32, defended it once — against rival Urijah Faber in June 2016 — before losing it nearly a year ago. Cruz hasn’t fought since the Garbrandt upset loss.