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The Dominick Cruz rule
October 1, 2013 marked exactly two years since UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz stepped foot in the Octagon for a title defense.
On that night 24 months ago, Cruz beat future flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson by unanimous decision to retain his belt in his second successful title defense since moving to the UFC from the WEC.
Unfortunately while preparing for a fight against Urijah Faber at UFC 148 in 2012, Cruz blew out his knee and required complete reconstructive surgery on his ACL. To make matters worse, during rehab on the knee Cruz suffered another setback and had to have the entire surgery done over again pushing back his return date once again.
During Cruz's absence, the UFC has crowned Renan Barao the new interim bantamweight champion and he's gone on to defend the title on two occasions with finishes over Michael McDonald and Eddie Wineland. The current agenda is for Cruz to return in early 2014, and face Barao with a chance to unify the belts once and for all.
Looking back on the way everything unfolded, UFC president Dana White admits there may have been some fault placed on him and the executives in the promotion that allowed Cruz to remain champion during his two-plus year absence from the sport. He said it came down to a judgment call after Cruz missed out on a chance to fight Faber in one of the biggest pay-per-views of all time, and he just couldn't bring himself to tack on even more misery to a fighter who is already suffering by not being able to compete.
"Do I think we let it play out too long? Maybe," White admitted on Monday during a media conference call. "I feel bad for the kid. It's one thing to have all these injuries and have that thing taken away from him, that big fight, plus him and Faber wanted to fight each other and then to strip him of the title too? You just couldn't kick a guy more when he's down.
"This is one of those situations where Dominick Cruz is a good kid, he's a great champion, he was supposed to fight Urijah Faber at the end of that season of The Ultimate Fighter, which he's a champion he gets a piece of pay-per-view and that fight was supposed to be on the Anderson Silva/Chael Sonnen card. Which was the homerun for him, it's literally a lottery ticket on how much money that kid would have made."
Now that the ordeal is hopefully almost at its end, White says that the promotion is currently planning a hard set of rules to be instituted just in case they run into another situation like this down the road. The plan is to place a time limit on how long a champion can sit without defending his or her belt without being stripped and a new champion crowned.
"We have thought about it and we will do it," White said. "We're probably going to do that soon."
What those limits will be remain to be seen. Interim titles haven't happened all that often in the UFC, but there have been a few occasions. Outside of Cruz's situation, the other most recent time when an interim champion had to be crowned was in the welterweight division when Georges St-Pierre suffered a similar knee injury and had to sit out for over 18 months between title defenses.
While St-Pierre was out, Carlos Condit was crowned interim champion although he never actually defended the belt. Condit ended up facing St-Pierre when he returned, and the fight unified the two titles.
Cruz is targeting early 2014 for his return engagement with Barao to accomplish the same, but if he can't be ready to go by then the UFC has already made him aware of what has to happen.
"He's training. He's very confident he's going to be back at the beginning of the year," White said about Cruz. "I think we've made it pretty clear what's going to happen if he's not."