LOS ANGELES – Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber found themselves together at a media gathering Wednesday in downtown Los Angeles promoting their UFC bantamweight title fight at UFC 199.
But the event may as well have been held about 10 miles northwest, because the catty manner in which they tore into one another made it feel like the hallways of Beverly Hills High School in 90210.
“He’s a car salesman,” said Cruz (21-1), the defending champion. “Everyone likes the car salesman until he gives you the keys and then he never remembers you in the end. Faber’s just looking to give you guys the keys real quick.”
Faber, for his part, sees his nemesis as the type who starts trouble and then runs away.
“He’s like the kid at recess who will talk a bunch of trash,” said Faber (33-8). “Maybe throw something at you, then they go hide behind the yard lady.”
Sacramento’s Faber and San Diego’s Cruz have been at this NorCal vs. SoCal war of words nearly a decade. The duo first crossed paths in World Extreme Cagefighting, where Faber, then the reigning WEC featherweight champion, submitted Cruz in the first round of a 2007 fight in Las Vegas for what stands as Cruz’s only career defeat.
Since then, Cruz has won 12 straight fights, while Faber has gotten multiple title shots at featherweight and bantamweight belts in the UFC and WEC, coming up short every time. The outspoken Cruz, of course, has a theory as to why.
“I don't think that he's grown," Cruz said. "It's because of his ego. Your ego, if you're not able to accept the things you haven't done right and look at them and put your ego aside and say, 'You're right, I'm not good at this, this and this,' then you can't grow.”
By the second time the duo fought, Cruz was the UFC bantamweight champion and Faber had dropped down to 135 pounds. Cruz took their UFC 132 bout in July 2011 via unanimous decision.
The rubber match was expected long ago, originally scheduled for UFC 148 in the summer of 2012, after both fighters served as coaches on The Ultimate Fighter. But Cruz had to pull out of the bout with a torn ACL. This kicked off a period of three years in which he only fought once due to a series of training injuries and was stripped of the title in the process.
Cruz finally returned from his latest setback in January and defeated T.J. Dillashaw to regain the title he never lost in the ring. But even when the rivals concede one another’s strong points, they do so with a heavy dose of passive aggression.
Faber, asked about Cruz’s perseverance in pushing through his myriad injuries, lays out a compliment to set up a scathing critique.
“I think Dominick’s story is pretty motivating,” Faber said. “He’s a guy that stays steady, but what else are you going to do? To be honest, the easiest path in this sport is to sit out and fight once every four years. That’s the easiest way. The hard way to do it is what I’ve done. Stay healthy, fight injured, fight everybody, anybody, in multiple weight classes, and be ready for battle. That’s the hard part.”
Cruz might never have gotten the opportunity to headline and co-headline major events if not for the efforts of Faber, who became a breakout star during his WEC tenure and proved that sub-lightweight fighters could draw crowds and ratings. But Cruz barely acknowledged Faber’s accomplishments while prodding at his record during Cruz’s absence.
"Faber didn't touch the belt," Cruz said. "Why? He had plenty of time when I was out. He was scared to face the guy [Dillashaw], so I went in there and did it for him. I respect the way he fights, but I don’t respect the way he carries himself. All he talks about is himself and how he was the popular kid in school and how he has all these things. I’ve been hearing the same stuff out of him for 10 years.”
Appraised of Cruz’s comments, Faber, who went 7-3 in the time between Cruz’s initial injury and regaining the title, seems to think his opponent is wound just a bit too tight.
“I come from a world of busting balls,” Faber said. “My buddies from little kids to college to Team Alpha Male, we get at each other. That’s part of the game. He thinks he’s good at it, he’s just a natural at being irritating, which we’ve all seen. I enjoy that part.”
"That's his ego talking,” Cruz responded. “He can't admit the fact that he's been beaten, so therefore he won't grow from those experiences, which creates a stationary, stagnant mindset in a sport that you can only grow in otherwise you get passed by.”
Come June 4 at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., one of these guys will finally have the ultimate bragging point in their rivalry. One will emerge victorious in the highest-profile trilogy fight that MMA’s lower weight classes have ever experienced.
But given the way these two 30-somethings continue to bicker like teenagers, it’s highly unlikely that will mark the end of their trash talk.
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