Cruz won the WEC bantamweight title when he beat Brian Bowles in 2010. Following the WEC-UFC merger, Cruz’s title was a UFC one, and in his 2011 UFC debut, he avenged his only career loss to Urijah Faber by winning a unanimous decision. Following a victory over Demetrious Johnson, Cruz wouldn’t compete again until 2014, having suffered a torn ACL, which required two surgeries. Cruz vacated his belt after a torn groin suffered prior to a scheduled title fight vs. Renan Barao, but when he did make his comeback, he looked spectacular in knocking out Takeya Mizugaki in just 61 seconds. An ACL tear in his other knee sidelined him for all of 2015, but 2016 has been a brilliant year for him. He edged out T.J. Dillashaw by split decision to recapture a title he’d never lost in the cage, then defended it successfully with a one-sided win over heated rival Urijah Faber. Tonight’s fight vs. Garbrandt will mark the first time since 2010 that he’s fought 3 times in a calendar year.
Garbrandt is one of the most powerful punchers in the 135 lbs division. All but one of his 10 career wins has come by KO or TKO, and as he’s gone up the ladder in competition, the knockouts have kept coming. After beating short-notice replacement Augusto Mendes in February, the Team Alpha Male talent scored a May headlining spot against fellow KO artist Thomas Almeida, and he put away the Brazilian brilliantly in the 1st round. At UFC 202 in August, Garbrandt fought former WEC title challenger Takeya Mizugaki and didn’t even need a minute to knock him out. Cruz is of a considerably higher quality than anyone Garbrandt has faced to date, so if Garbrandt can pull off the upset, he’ll have a strong case for 2016’s Fighter of the Year.
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