With a win over top-five contender Cory Sandhagen in July 2021, former champion T.J. Dillashaw became the frontrunner to challenge current titleholder Aljamain Sterling. Nothing is set in stone, but this is the direction the UFC is headed, so far.
Given the depth of the UFC 135-pound division, not everyone is on board with this pairing. Ex-champion Dominick Cruz, for one, isn’t sure about its validity.
“He was suspended for cheating, so to get a shot after one win, OK, cool. Sounds like a hook-up to me,” he said on his Wednesday appearance on The MMA Hour.
“He got two years off, didn’t really lose any money, and then just gets right back up in [the title picture]. It’s not like he had an easy fight; [Cory] Sandhagen’s no joke. But still, one fight? Pedro Munhoz and all these other people that are in the division that have just been competing, competing, competing, it’s crazy.”
Ultimately, Cruz says he does understand why such bookings are made for the sake of the business.
“I kind of get it, because when I was laid off for so long with my knee injuries, I came back, fought [Takeya] Mizugaki, blew my knee out again, and came back and got a title shot. But I hadn’t lost, and I hadn’t gotten in trouble for anything – I just blew my knees out. So, it’s a little different, and I got my shot that way,” he explained.
“But it’s showing me that what is dominant in each division is ticket sales and storyline, and the storyline of T.J. Dillashaw, the fact that he cheated, isn’t really in that. If anything, it just makes people dislike him more, which will make people tune in. So I think that the storyline is more important for the UFC than anything else to sell tickets than who deserves what.
“I’ve said it a million times – nobody really deserves anything in this sport. You get everything you earn. He fought Cory Sandhagen. He earned that. But that’s pretty much my layout. I think that there’s a lot of good fights you can make. To make that one? I guess so,” Cruz continued.
“I guess, but there’s plenty of other fights you can make that you could give that opportunity to besides him. But obviously, the storyline sells, so they’re going with it.”
For his part, the 37-year-old Cruz says he’s more about getting legacy fights these days. And he is taking a slightly different career approach.
“I’m ready to fight. Right now, I’m at a point where I’m fighting for my legacy,” he said. “I’m a multiple-time world champion. The belt’s important, but really, going toward the belt just cements my legacy, and that’s why it’s important to go that direction, to be fighting the Jose Aldos, the Petr Yans, the T.J. Dillashaws, the Aljamain Sterlings, the [Merab] Dvalishvilis, that are right there at the top.
“I’m not asking for some kind of handout – I’m asking for the toughest dudes in the world, and when the date matches up, it’ll happen.
“I get called out every week. It’s really important that I focus on dates. Once I set the date, once I set the opponent, boom, we hit the races. But until then, I’ve done my whole career as a world champion worrying who’s next, who’s next, overtraining – that’s how you get hurt.
“You’ve got to keep it one date at a time, and realistically, the date matters more than your opponent for anybody out there. Pick that date, and if you’re the best in the world, you’ll beat them.”
Cruz (24-3) is on a two-fight win streak. He last fought in December at UFC 269 against Pedro Munhoz and won via unanimous decision, along with a $50K bonus for Fight of the Night.