Dominick Cruz breaks tie with Urijah Faber, defends UFC title

LOS ANGELES — Dominick Cruz successfully defended his bantamweight world title and broke his tie with nemesis Urijah Faber on Saturday, earning a unanimous decision at UFC 199. Scores were 50-45 (twice) and 49-46 for Cruz.

The two-time champion used unpredictable movement, a great sense of distance, takedowns and well-timed power punches to get the best of his rival.

Cruz led with takedowns in the first round. Faber got up after each one, scrambled well and cornered Cruz time and again, but was unable to pin him down in one place and do damage. 

In the second round an elusive Cruz hid power strikes behind stance switches and shoulder rolls. Leading up to this bout, Faber had long criticized Cruz for supposedly not having power, but the champ proved him wrong and dropped Faber with a nasty straight left off a stance change.

"The California Kid" popped back up and continued storming Cruz for the rest of the round.

In the third round Faber scored his own knockdown from punches, but Cruz shot back up to his feet and wobbled his opponent with another punch. The rest of the round saw Faber defend takedown attempts and clip Cruz with left hooks, and an overall increase in punching exchanges on the inside.

After the horn sounded, ending the round, the scuffle continued, along with more trash talk. Referee Herb Dean stepped in and sent both men back to their respective corners.

The fourth round saw Faber trying to close the distance and work for the clinch and Cruz dropping him again with more punches. Faber survived, got back up to his feet and fought on.

In the fifth, Cruz pumped and landed his jab often, scored two takedowns and began to do real damage with uppercut punches to the head. Cruz counter-struck masterfully with his hands and legs, from both sides of his body.

At times, he seemed to have several replies for every big Faber strike. After the fight ended, the longtime foes stared at one another, tensely for a few moments.

Then, Faber extended his hand and they shook hands and embraced. 

Afterward, both men continued their uneasy expression of respect toward one another. Cruz said he was "not surprised" that Faber was able to survive so many close calls.

"He’s been a champion before. With being a champion comes toughness. Everyone in this Octagon is tough, so I’m ready for five rounds every time."

Faber acknowledged that Cruz surprised him with his punching power and said he had to think about whether or not he would continue his Hall of Fame-caliber career. "He had a perfect fight, so I can”t say anything. He bested me tonight," Faber said.

"He’s a heavy hitter."

Regarding whether or not he’ll retire after 13 years atop the sport of MMA, Faber acknowledged he has some thinking to do. "I will say that I will have to give it some thought," he continued.

"This has been a passion for me about being on the top. Tonight, I was not on the top so I have to think about it … until then, keep an eye out for my [Team Alpha Male] guys."

Faber’s mark drops to 33-9 with the loss.

Cruz was humble in victory, expressing gratitude that he is still able to fight after so many years out due to horrific leg injuries and multiple surgeries. "I’m just so happy to be here," he said after he improved to 22-1.