Tension remains between bantamweight combatants, while middleweight veterans praise one another
Listening to the participants from UFC 132‘s biggest bouts speak about each other paints two very distinct pictures. The match-ups, and the feelings of the fighters involved, couldn’t be more different.
The champion and his first UFC challenger fought several years ago when the roles were reversed, with Faber handing Cruz the lone loss of his career. Though both have accomplished a great deal in the years that have passed, the friction between the two remains.
Do you know that feeling when you’re standing between two people who obviously don’t want to be in the same room together? That’s what Tuesday’s media conference call felt like whenever Cruz or Faber answered a question, whether it be about their upcoming fight, the tension between them or how proud Cruz is to be the second Mexican-American champion in the UFC.
I kid you not; the bantamweight champ made sure to slip a quick verbal jab at his opponent when asked about how Mexican heritage.
“I’m looking to go out there and put a better show on than Wanderlei and Chris Leben because I know those guys are going to throw down,” said Cruz of his upcoming first defense of the 135 pound belt in the UFC. “I’m excited to go out there, beat up Urijah and represent the Mexican community strong.”
Both fighters were asked if this second meeting would settle things between them, and both used their answer as an opportunity to give their prediction on the outcome of the fight.
“I think we’ll go through the fight. I’m a good sport,” offered the 17-1 Cruz. “I have no problem, especially after the win that I’m going to get, just being happy and shaking hands with Faber at the end of it. It’s not going to be a problem.
“I don’t hate the guy – I don’t wish him ill will – I just want to go prove that I’m a better fighter than him. We’re not going to hang out at the after party, having drinks and cheering each other after it. We’re cordial guys, we’re both professionals, so I think we’re just going to take it for what it is.”
Not to be outdone, Faber used his answer as a counter-punch to Cruz, taking an added shot at how he feels the champion portrays himself in the media.
“It’s one thing when a guy wins and another thing when a guy loses. I’ve been a good sport on both ends of it, so we’ll see how he reacts when he loses. I’ll be cool regardless.
“I have a hard time being enemies with people. Dominick has made it easy; he’s got an interesting combo of throwing himself pity parties and feeling sorry for himself, but also giving himself a lot of credit for little things. What’s going to happen at the end of this (comes down to) can he handle another loss and can he be cool?”
The two summed up the situation nicely, playing off each others responses.
Faber: “If I’m on the losing end of this thing, I’ll be cool. The bottom line is there’s bad blood there, and we’re going to have to get it all out.”
Cruz: “I feel like fighting fixes everything. Fighting fixes everything. Once we punch each other in the face; fighting fixes everything.”
Faber: “That’s like the opposite of what my mom used to say, but we’ll see.”
Unlike the bantamweights who will follow them into the Octagon, the middleweight co-main event participants spoke about each other with reverence, and an eagerness to combine for an exciting fight.
Nearly a year after first asking for the bout, Chris Leben will finally get his wish to face Wanderlei Silva. The former Pride standout has not fought since defeating Michael Bisping at UFC 110 in February 2010, while Leben earned a loss at the hands of Brian Stann at UFC 125 on New Year’s Day.
While Cruz and Faber offered numerous little digs at each other, Leben spoke glowingly about the admiration and respect he has for his opponent.
“Honestly, I’m so excited to fight Wanderlei; he’s one of my heroes,” admitted the 30-year-old Ultimate Fighter 1 alum. ” Believe it or not – I really don’t want to tell him this — but when I started fighting, I used to go get bootlegged Pride videos and watch him, and in some ways, try to emulate what he did. You’ve got to beat the legend to be a legend, and for me to be able to fight one of my heroes, I’m so stoked.”
Leben said he sees this fight as a potential “passing of the torch” moment; a chance for him to inherit Silva’s place as one of the most feared and respected competitors to ever step into the cage. For Silva, he eyes UFC 132 as a chance to remind people that he’s still relevant in the middleweight division, and deliver a fight that people won’t soon forget.
“I debuted in 185 against a guy who is top five in the world. Bisping is top five in the world; he’s a really good fighter. Sometimes he talks a lot, but he fights very well,” Silva said, taking a little shot at the last man he faced in the cage.
“I’m thinking this is a really important fight for me. A lot of guys ask for me, but I told the bosses I want to fight Chris Leben. They asked me why and I told them I watched his fight with (Yoshihiro) Akiyama and he did very well. Akiyama is a very tough guy, and he has a style like my style; he fights like me. I asked (for this fight) because we can make one of the best fights of the year; maybe the best fight of the year.”
After having previously been asked about potential retirement plans – to which he answered, “Well, I ain’t retiring any time soon, I’ll tell you that” – Leben explained that hearing Silva’s reasoning behind taking this fight and eagerness to put on a good show is part of what helps keep him motivated.
“It’s awesome. That’s another reason for me to continue to fight. I’m still continuing to grow, and to hear something like that from a guy like Wanderlei, that makes my day right there. That’s cool, but the fact of the matter is I’ve got some things that I want to accomplish still in this sport, and that’s a motivator right there.”
Unlike Cruz and Faber, there is no bad blood or animosity between the two middleweight veterans; only mutual respect and a desire to deliver for the fans.
While both fights will surely do just that, that’s about the only thing these two featuring pairings have in common.