Cruz vs. Faber, A Rarity, A Real Rivalry


From The Desk Of Kenny Rice

They don’t like each other. Really. Not that hype to sell a few extra seats that some have made careers in doing. UFC bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz defends his crown against Urijah Faber this weekend at UFC 199. It will be the third meeting, each man with a victory in the books.

Not that rematches instantly qualify as rivalries always, but there is no doubt amidst the innuendoes, snide remarks, and accusations in an already impressive verbal sparring match of a build up, that Cruz and Faber won’t be sitting down to dinner anytime soon to reflect on their careers and share small talk. They can’t be civil to each other though both are among the most articulate and genuinely nice guys in the sport to most everyone else.

The tension is palpable before they enter the cage for round three of their series that began with a Faber win and the only loss ever for Cruz at WEC 26 in 2007 for the featherweight championship. Cruz avenged and defended his UFC belt at UFC 132 in 2011. Who’s the best now? Such a natural promotion guaranteed to whet the appetite of the fans. An octagon version of Red Sox-Yankees that will be played out for likely the final time with a trilogy winner determined and a belt staying put or changing hands.

What else drives the hype machine for this one is that it is becoming more rare for a true, bonafide showdown between two guys with disdain for the other no other reason needs to be given. It isn’t manufactured, not honed by the PR department, no need for loaded questions at press events to egg a guaranteed soundbite binge from both fighters.

There are many of these rivalries remaining in this social media era of structured “challenges” and rehearsed ad libs. To many fans, this is the rivalry they know best, although that age group is aware of Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos or Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard and those bouts.

They are the new, old school harkening back to Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock; Ortiz vs. Chuck Liddell; Liddell vs. Randy Couture; Wanderlei Silva vs. Quinton Jackson; BJ Penn vs. Matt Hughes and Hughes vs. Georges St. Pierre. Memorable guys, memorable moments and some either outrageous, borderline slanderous talk or sly psychological death ray beam stares. Cruz and Faber bring another facet, boyish venom. The very likable didn’t just say that? Oh yes he did and looked so wholesome in the process.

At 31 Cruz has put together the greatest comeback in MMA history. Over three years of recurring injuries forcing him to vacate the belt only to return in magnificent glory beating T.J. Dillashaw, a Faber protégé at that, to regain his title in January. Faber, 37, has been there before with Cruz and twice with Renan Barao and been short in reach for that elusive UFC belt. How many more shots will he get? How good is Cruz in spite of this remarkable return? Accurate assessments for two true pros who have meant so much to the game for over a decade.

Will the victor go on an ‘I told you so’ monologue when Joe Rogan steps in to interview him? Or will he acknowledge what a special rivalry this has been? Will the loser make excuses without a nod to the winner? Or will he give a deserving salute for the battles they’ve had? All scenarios are possible with these two, both known for off the cuff witting and sometimes biting statements, especially when it comes to this opponent.

To the winner goes the title, to the fans goes a rivalry that will go down as one for the all time record. There will be a winner and there will be a loser but there won’t be a Cruz-Faber set of clashes any time soon. Savor this moment. You know down deep they both will.

– Kenny

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