After an improbable and world-changing 17-year run in the fight biz, the UFC is finally set to crown its first bantamweight champion. The historic honor, and a sparkling new UFC belt, will go to the winner of Thursday night’s battle between Dominick Cruz and challenger Scott Jorgensen at WEC 53 in Glendale, Ariz.
The 25-year-old Cruz, who previously lived and trained in Arizona for a time, feels like a man of destiny.
“I’ve been put in this position for a reason,” said the reigning WEC titleholder, making his second defense of the belt he won in March from Brian Bowles. “God has blessed me with this position to make history. None of this happened by accident. I’m excited that we’re coming over to the UFC and we get to be the very first guys that have ever fought in this division. It’s just an awesome feeling and I think it’s definitely going to be like a legacy that we’ve all started.”
In weighing the gravity of his present situation, Cruz (16-1) alluded to legendary pioneers such as Randy Couture and Royce Gracie and “all those guys that started the UFC.”
“Well, in a sense that’s kind of a way a lot of us guys have done for the 135- pound division,” Cruz continued. “We’ve kind of jump-started it and set the bar for everybody else who’s here to follow. So I’m just pumped that God has blessed me with these opportunities.”
Standing in Cruz’s way is a former Division I wrestling standout that has skyrocketed up the bantamweight rankings since dropping his WEC debut to Damacio Page nearly 3 years ago. Jorgensen (11-3) credits the loss to Page as the turning point in his career, and has caught fire since by overwhelming seven of his last eight foes. The lone setback during that span – via split decision to Antonio Banuelos – was a contest many believed Jorgensen actually won.
Fighting out of Boise, Idaho, Jorgensen has raised eyebrows with a rapidly-improving standup arsenal. He has stood and banged for extended periods of time against Banuelos (twice), Brad Pickett, Takeya Mizugaki and Kenji Osawa, and has never been outclassed in that realm, to the surprise of many. In fact, Jorgensen usually lands the more damaging punches on his feet, and his guillotine choke is downright wicked, making him even more dangerous. But does he have what it takes to dethrone Cruz, who has won seven straight largely by mystifying his opponents, almost toying with them, with his speedy and elusive style of dancing around the cage, landing combos and then darting out of harm’s way?
“Dominick, he’s a champ, you know?” Jorgensen said. “He finds a way to win. But his style to me is just - he moves a lot and he’s very mobile but I feel it’s a very defensive style. You know, he uses his strikes to set up his movement and his movement to set up his strikes and in both ways he tries to stay out of big exchanges. He tries to land quickly and get out but I don’t feel like they’re very effective strikes. You know, they’re scoring points but they don’t hurt. They don’t sit people down.
“He’ll land one and then move and then land a couple and move and then throw a kick. You know, it’s - I think it’s a very defensive style and to me it’s not very effective.”
How does Jorgensen intend to thwart Cruz’s game?
“I move forward and I cut the cage off and I put pressure on guys. I’m in better shape than anybody I fight. It’s just going to be my fight from the first (horn) to the last. It’s very exciting. I put a lot of work into this moment so you better believe I’ve going to be on point.”
Jorgensen, labeled the underdog in this bout, said he relishes the role. He mentioned how, back during his college days at Boise State University, he was unseeded while competing in his first PAC 10 championships yet won first place. The scene of his victory: Arizona State University, not far from Glendale.
Cruz, meanwhile, said he feels loose and calm headed into Thursday night’s co-main event.
“This is where all the hard work and all the blood, sweat and tears that I’ve put into the training camp comes out and I get to just enjoy myself out there in the fight,” Cruz said. “I’m really looking forward to fighting in front of a lot of the people that I went to high school with, a lot of people I grew up with.”
Whenever he fights these days, and faces the media beforehand, Cruz inevitably spends a good deal of his time talking about his well-publicized rivalry with Urijah Faber. Now that the former featherweight champ – the only man to defeat Cruz – has dropped to bantamweight, many reporters envision the two adversaries to be on a collision course. Yet Cruz made it perfectly clear that his full attention is on Jorgensen, not Faber.
“I ain’t thinking about nothing other than smashing Scott Jorgensen,” Cruz said. “That’s it, that’s all that’s in my head, period. He’s one of the top five in the division and that’s what I’m most happy about fighting him. He’s got a real in-your-face style. He’s just in your face with pressure, with good steady boxing and his hands have gotten a lot quicker (recently). That’s one thing I’ve noticed … The best way to explain Jorgensen is probably like a grimy fighter. You know, he’s the kind of guy that when you hit him he kind of gets more into the fight. And as each round goes on he starts to feel more and more comfortable in the cage. I’m very similar to that and I see this fight very similar in a lot of ways in that sense that we’re both getting stronger as the fight goes on.
“So I think it’s just going to be an awesome fight. He’s got a wicked guillotine. He’s proved that in all of his fights pretty much, so guillotine defense is going to be key. In order for me to win this fight I just need to do as I’ve done before, take the pace of the fight, stay very mobile, very hard to find and keep a high tempo and a high pace in every aspect. And just mix it up; high, low, high, low and you know I can work a lot of ground game and I could take this fight wherever I need to. And I’m very confident in any aspect in this fight. So I’m just excited to fight one of the better guys in the world and go out there and prove why I’m better.”
As he prepares for his final WEC bout, and eyes becoming the UFC’s first bantamweight kingpin, Jorgensen struck a bittersweet chord. He feels like an ambassador poised to enlighten people who think heavier fighters are where it’s at.
“We’re going to take a little bit of the WEC into the UFC obviously with the way we fight,” Jorgensen said. “It’s going to open the eyes of the UFC fans that haven’t been exposed to WEC, that have never maybe seen it. We’re going to change the landscape of the game. I see the way boxing has followed the lighter weights to be the more marquee matchups in the most exciting fights. We’ve proven that we’re the most exciting fighters in the world. And in the way that PRIDE kind of still lives on through the guys like Wanderlei (Silva) and (Antonio Rodrigo) Nogueira, we’re going to be doing the same thing in the UFC. You’re going to see the UFC become a better organization because of us … we’re going to be in there stealing a lot of bonuses. You will see a lot more dynamics and submissions and fast-paced fights that are Fight of the Night. We’re going to start cleaning up these Submission of the Night, Knockout of the Night, Fight of the Night bonuses. And it’s going to make those big boys in the heavyweights and the light heavyweights, all those guys are going to have to start putting on a fight if they want those bonuses. It’s going to be good for the fans. It’s going to be a great thing for MMA when you start seeing our guys stealing bonuses.”
Cruz and Jorgensen Eyeing History
“We’re going to take a little bit of the WEC into the UFC obviously with the way we fight. It’s going to open the eyes of the UFC fans that haven’t been exposed to WEC, that have never maybe seen it. We’re going to change the landscape of the game."