Title fights at a premium after Cruz injury

May, 8, 2012
5/08/12
3:18
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Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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Dominick CruzDave Mandel for Sherdog.comTraining for a fight is proving to be as dangerous (if not more) than the actual fight for titleholders.
Training camps have become their own game of roulette, and Dominick Cruz -- who trains fiendishly year round -- is the latest casualty.

Cruz tore his anterior cruciate ligament Thursday while prepping for his July 7 title fight with Urijah Faber, and now 2012 will pass by without the UFC bantamweight champion ever stepping into the octagon.

Bummer.

When 10 top contenders can’t beat you, ACL’s are around to remind us that there is such a thing as destructibility. Look at Georges St. Pierre, who suffered the exact same fate. It’s all eggshells before fight night, because injuries remain stubbornly indiscriminate (and prefight drug screenings have a way of coming back hot).

The big difference between Cruz and St. Pierre? St. Pierre’s injury took Carlos Condit with him.

In Faber’s case, he’ll still be dealt a fresh new face, likely in the form of Brazilian Renan Barao or the 21-year old Michael McDonald. Neither one of them provide a gussied-up, trilogy-fight storyline, but both stand a fantastic chance of dialing Faber’s mystique back for good -- which is to say, both have the power to derail Faber’s trilogy fight with Cruz forever.

In a game centered on hype, situations change at far greater speeds than belts. Very likely, whoever wins the rejiggered UFC 148 bout will have the placeholder belt and will wait out Cruz’s timetable for recovery to unify things.

And this is where things fall into a familiar sludge.

How many titlists and top contenders can be on the shelf at once? How many actual and theoretical belts can we introduce without it becoming charades? Whatever the case, matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby are becoming fluent in the laws of attrition. Taking a look at the tops of the UFC’s weight classes right now -- with all the conditions, exceptions, suspensions and voluntary sabbaticals -- most are a total mess.

St. Pierre will fight only once this year (hopefully), and Anderson Silva possibly the same (but hopefully not). Junior dos Santos is fighting in his first title defense in a few weeks (knock on wood), yet the top contender he was supposed to face -- Alistair Overeem -- is suspended. Likewise, Nick Diaz is suspended at welterweight.

Circumstantially, the latest contenders are putting themselves on hiatus, too. Nate Diaz says he’ll wait out Frankie Edgar/Benson Henderson, a fight that’ll likely take place in September. That means the earliest we see No. 1 contender Diaz again is in December. It’s even rockier for Johny Hendricks at welterweight. If he waits out the tentative November showdown between Condit and St. Pierre, he won’t surface again this year.

Title fights in 2012 are becoming scarce. Out of eight weight classes, we’ve had three in five months, and are on pace for maybe 14. Even the flyweight coronation was postponed due to a bumbled math job in Australia. Big fights are being made, and big fights are falling through. It’s the nature of the fight game to roll with the punches, but what a collision course of rotten luck.

What can you do? To use the most common refrain in MMA right now, it is what it is. The UFC can’t issue a memorandum that says, “tread light before the fight.” With Cruz out for the next nine months, it means opportunity for either Barao or McDonald. And the UFC has always been very good at branding optimism and opportunism above all else.

As for this year they have to, because that's what's for sale.

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