Eric Del Fierro doesn’t know whom Dominick Cruz will fight when he returns to the UFC later this year -- and right now, that’s exactly how he prefers it.
Most important, Cruz doesn’t know his next opponent yet. And that’s good, because when Cruz gets the name of an opponent, Del Fierro says, he thinks of little else. And pretty soon, he’s going 100 percent in the gym when he should be going half that.
“The problem with Dominick is he trains too hard,” Del Fierro said. “I don’t want to give him a date or an opponent. He’ll go 100 percent. For the next 10 weeks, we’re letting his body get back to 100 percent. When his body is there, we’ll book a fight.”
Currently, Del Fierro estimates Cruz (19-1) is “about 75 to 80 percent” healthy.
The former UFC bantamweight champion hasn’t fought since October 2011, due to a series of injuries. In the past three years, Cruz has undergone two ACL surgeries and was forced to pull out of a fight in February due to a serious quad injury.
Del Fierro, head trainer at Alliance MMA in San Diego, says Cruz has actually been able to participate in light sparring. He’s implemented a new rule for Cruz for the time being though: Whatever his schedule is for the day, he should do a third of it.
“If Dominick is programmed to run 10 miles, he says he’s running 10 miles, I tell him to divide that workout by three,” Del Fierro said. “We’re literally building his body up from scratch.”
Del Fierro says he doesn’t care one way or another who the UFC pairs Cruz up with in his return, but admits he doesn’t see an issue in fighting for the title immediately.
Cruz was officially stripped of the 135-pound belt in January due to his latest injury, which involved a muscle tear in the groin. The UFC then crowned interim champion Renan Barao its official title-holder. Barao (32-1) will seek his second defense of the title later this month against TJ Dillashaw at UFC 173.
Chances are high Cruz would take a “tune-up” fight before fighting Barao. The UFC has said the decision is his -- to which, Cruz responded it was up to the UFC.
Del Fierro says he’s only interested in getting Cruz healthy, but has never been much of a believer in “tune-up fights.”
“I think tune-up fights are psychological,” Del Fierro said. “Let me put it to you like this: If you have three tune-up fights and then face Renan Barao, is it an easier or a tougher fight? It’s the same. It’s a tough fight regardless.
“If the camp is run the way it’s supposed to be and Dominick is healthy, it doesn’t matter who they give him. I don’t necessarily believe in the whole tune-up thing.”
Few have been more frustrated by Cruz’s injuries than Del Fierro, who says he has actually lost a little bit of faith in the medical community when it comes to dealing with high-level professional athletes.
One thing he’s certain of, however, is that Cruz can still be the same bantamweight he was when he last fought. Plenty have speculated as to how much Cruz would have to change his style due to the leg injuries. Del Fierro isn’t concerned.
“We have a lot of top guys at our camp and Dominick at 70 percent or so is still sparring these guys,” Del Fierro said. “I see what he can do everyday. I’m not overly concerned. My only concern with Dominick is his body being healthy.
“I would say he’s improved in the time off. His body has gotten stronger. The biggest thing is psychological. Does a two-year layoff hurt his psyche? We’ll see. There’s only one way to find out.”