The former UFC bantamweight king will once again step inside the Octagon on Saturday night.
No. 11 ranked bantamweight Dominick Cruz (22-3) is set to face unranked Casey Kenney (16-2-1) in the final preliminary bout of UFC 259 on March 6. “The Dominator” last fought in May 2020 when he attempted to regain the 135-pound belt at UFC 249 against Henry Cejudo. Cruz lost the fight via second-round TKO in which he still contests to this day.
Kenney is currently riding a three-fight win streak, earning all three victories in 2020. His latest win came by unanimous decision against Nathaniel Wood at UFC 254 in October.
Fans are not used to seeing Cruz fighting on a preliminary card against a non-ranked opponent. But to Cruz, he has no issue with it at all.
“That’s the fight [my matchmaker] gave me,” Cruz told Heavy in a recent interview. “I think that after the layoff I sustained and getting a title shot and not following through with what I know I could have in that fight, which is a win, who am I to argue with who he gives me?”
When The Dominator challenged Cejudo for the title, it was his first fight since losing his championship to Cody Garbrandt in 2016. Cruz was sidelined with multiple injuries, including a broken arm.
“Casey Kenny is one of the best,” Cruz said. “He’s within a year’s time of being a world champion if he can put together a win streak. I’m the same. All that matters is getting through this fight. Each fight is the next title fight for each one of us. When you start to look at it any other way, I believe you’re doing injustice to yourself.”
Read more from our interview with Cruz below:
Cruz Is Taking It One Fight at a Time, Expects Ranked Opponents to Continue Challenging Him After UFC 259
The 35-year-old former champion is solely focused on one mission: to defeat Kenney. His aspiration, like always, is to be the champion. And Cruz knows should he get through UFC 259 with a victory, there will be no shortage of opponents to fight en route to another title shot.
“I’ll take this fight and then once I get through, and I get my win like I have very deeply put my mind into, I don’t think it’s going to be a problem finding guys to want to fight me,” Cruz said. “I think they’re going to be calling me out. It’s not going to be difficult [to find a fight]. I’ve been getting called out my whole career. Everybody wants to fight me, it’s not going to be hard to find somebody ranked that wants to fight me or anything.”
“I mean, look at TJ Dillashaw after cheating, getting caught for cheating. People are still calling him out. So what’s really the difference? I’m a known fighter that’s done a lot in the sport for a very long time.
“So I think my job right now is just to get this win and let the rest take care of itself.”
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Cruz Must Navigate the Waters of Being a Commentator & Active Fighter
Cruz is one of the few active fighters who also works as a color commentator and analyst for the UFC. And performing that role as an active fighter can put them in an interesting positioning as they must objectively analyze their colleagues, including potential opponents.
“I heard from other people that [Kenney] was saying that I had critiqued him in a past fight that I had called about him,” Cruz said. “I don’t even remember that. But I called one of his fights when I was probably injured and I was out. So apparently, I’ve watched him in the past.”
Cruz said as a commentator and analyst, he focuses on “supporting and preserving the fighter.” He said that he doesn’t do it to “serve and support” himself because “I am part of we, but we is not part of I.”
“I try to be there as much for the fighters as I can, but obviously they don’t all interpret it that way,” he continued. “A lot of fighters might get upset by what I say or might not like me for what I say. But it all comes from the stance of standing for the fighter and the improvement of the sport and the evolution of the sport.”
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The Dominator Is Motivated to Make Up for the Time He’s Lost in the Sport Due to Injury
Cruz wasn’t just sidelined with injuries between the Garbrandt and Cejudo fights. From 2012 to the beginning of 2016, The Dominator only fought once due to a string of knee injuries as well as a torn groin.
Although The Dominator was the inaugural UFC bantamweight champion, he has only fought seven times in the promotion since his debut in 2011.
Cruz explained to Heavy his motivation for fighting after he’s already accomplished so much in the sport.
“My motivation for why I’m still fighting is a three-and-a-half year layoff with a broken arm and a blown-out shoulder, and three knee surgeries, an ankle surgery, hand surgeries. To still be doing this after the three-and-a-half-year layoff and then another year layoff to get my body back on track, to really just challenge myself after this.
“I’m fighting in the UFC. It’s the toughest sport in the world, in my opinion. And we’re the highest-profile organization in the sport. It’s the NFL of fighting.”
Cruz Expects to Fight the Best Version of Kenney at UFC 259
Cruz told Heavy that fighters improve rapidly in this sport and Kenney is no exception.
“The Casey Kenney that I know now is just what I know now,” the former UFC bantamweight champion continued. “Fighters, we get better so quickly. Each fight, each win that you get, you level up so fast, because of the confidence and the experience that you get in that Octagon carries into the next fight.
“So he’s a completely different fighter each time he fights, just like the rest of us. I’m a completely different fighter from the last time I fought, too. Every one of us adapts and changes each time. So you can only be in the moment and make the adjustments in that moment.”