- Brett Okamoto, ESPN Staff Writer
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That might be a good thing because the fact is, both believe there’s a real decent chance this rivalry isn’t finished yet.
Cruz and Faber will meet in the cage for the third time this summer at UFC 148, with the 135-pound title on the line. Typically, when it comes to combat sports, a trilogy is pretty much the finish line. Regardless of how terrific three fights might be, asking fans to get behind a fourth between the same two fighters is a tough sell.
That’s a scenario, however, the UFC may have to deal with in coming years. Cruz, the champion, is 26 and breezing through every opponent with the exception of Faber.
Likewise, Faber, 32, has established himself as the clear No. 2 in the division. As UFC middleweight Chael Sonnen put it, sometimes it just so happens there are two equally dominant fighters atop a weight class instead of one.
“These are the two best guys,” Sonnen said. “Sometimes you’ll have rankings where the top two guys are fighting and the No. 2 guy gets beat and he falls to No. 9 and you’re like, “Woah. How’s that work?’”
So, even after all that’s happened -- the initial feud sparked by Cruz signing over Faber’s head on posters during an autograph signing, Faber’s guillotine, Cruz’s revenge, a reality show and (still to come) the trilogy match in Las Vegas -- is it possible that won’t be the end for these two?
“Normally, when there is some sort of confrontation, it blows over,” Faber said. “I don’t see this blowing over for awhile because I’m not going anywhere. I feel young. I don’t live a crazy lifestyle and I’ve been fed the healthiest stuff on the planet since I was in the womb.
“I’m confident. I’m getting better. We’re going to be fighting for the same spot for a long time.”
It’s not like there are no other fighters coming for that same spot Faber’s referring to. Brazilian fighter Renan Barao is 25 and undefeated in his last 29 fights. Michael McDonald is perhaps the hottest prospect in the sport at 21 years old.
Even with those guys coming up, though, it’s obvious that in addition to the animosity Cruz and Faber feel for one another they share a heavy amount of mutual respect.
Neither one seems confident that July 7 will be the day they finally get rid of the other.
“I still have a long, long career left,” Cruz said. “I don’t know how much he’s got left. If we’ve got 10 more fights to go to keep building the 135-pound division, it’s really not that hard for me to punch him.
“Rivalries make everyone better. That’s just the bottom line. Regardless of what a dummy he is, this rivalry has made me a better man and I’m still learning from it.”