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Stars align for Cruz against Garbrandt at UFC 207

Dominick Cruz is announced the winner after his fight against TJ Dillashaw in their mixed martial arts title bout at UFC Fight Night 81, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Boston. Cruz won via split decision and is the new UFC Bantamweight Champion. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)
(AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Dominick Cruz has to be all smiles these days.

Sitting atop the bantamweight throne in the UFC, “The Dominator” is expected to be scheduled to fight Cody Garbrandt at UFC 207 in what may be the biggest fight of his professional career. Not only did Cruz get the fight he most desired, but he’s getting it on what may turn out to be the biggest stage of an already impressive calendar year. It’s a win on all fronts for the Alliance MMA standout.

The first front is his choice of opponent. At just 25 years old, Garbrandt has quickly become the most popular name in the division that is a) not holding the UFC title; and b) not named Urijah Faber. Three first-round knockout victories to his name in 2016, “No Love” has soared up the UFC rankings to become a championship-caliber fighter. He surpassed other more deserving fighters such as former teammate (and former champion) T.J. Dillashaw, No. 2-ranked John Lineker and No. 5-ranked Bryan Caraway.

The biggest thing Garbrandt had going in his favor? The champion himself.

“The fans get behind Cody,” Cruz told MMAjunkie Radio August. “I’ve gotten a lot of tweets about him, he’s got a lot of fans because he’s been riding the coattails of Urijah Faber for a while now, so what he does is he goes, ‘Hey Faber, let me train under you, I’ll get all your fans and you can just send your fans over to me and I’ll just rep the name and let you pimp me out with Torque, and I’ll let you manage me and in this I’ll get all your fans.’

“He’s got the Faber fan base, he’s got his own fan base, he’s got his emotions, he’s got his whining and crying and talking about knocking people out. Between all that, I think he can make a pretty good run at running his mouth at me.”

Only, while Garbrandt may be the most high-profile contender available to Cruz at 135 pounds, he’s far from the most dangerous as far stylistic matchups are concerned. “No Love” has knocked out all but one of his opponents through his unblemished 10-0 record thus far, but he’s yet to face anybody the caliber of Cruz. Particularly because there isn’t any other fighter like him.

Garbrandt hits with a remarkable amount of force for somebody who competes at bantamweight. He presses forward, landing short, tight hooks onto the head of his opponent until they’re no longer capable of standing upright. It’s a formula that’s worked to perfection for “No Love” thus far; but it’s not likely to work against Cruz.

Cruz, in all his defensive prowess, couldn’t be a worse matchup for Garbrandt. “The Dominator” moves with the fluidity that frustrates fighters who look to plant their feet and unload. He won’t stand still and rip punches like many of Garbrandt’s previous opponents have been willing to do; he’ll move, throw a quick strike or two and continue moving, never giving “No Love” much of a chance to land the knockout blow that got him there in the first place.

Beyond all of that, Cruz gets to face a high-profile, tailor-made opponent on the biggest stage of his, or anybody else’s professional career.

Cruz may not be headlining UFC 207 on Dec. 30, but he’ll be fighting in the co-main event featuring the highly anticipated, surefire blockbuster return of one Ronda Rousey. Spending what will turn out to be 13 months on the sidelines following the first defeat of her professional career last November, Rousey returns to face Amanda Nunes in hopes of becoming the UFC women’s bantamweight champion once more. Even with UFC 196, UFC 200, UFC 202 and UFC 205, UFC 207 — because of Rousey and Rousey alone — stands a firm chance of becoming the biggest event of the year.

More than four years removed from losing out on the opportunity of fighting in the co-main event of a card headlined by a rematch between Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen — a card that came within approximately 75,000 buys of breaking the coveted million mark — Cruz now joins a cast of fighters all expected to hit high marks on a PPV scale.

Nothing but smiles.


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