The day after Thanksgiving was supposed to be one step closer to a UFC return for bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz.
He headed into his workout like any other day as he continued to rehabilitate his surgically repaired knee, but things would soon take a turn for the worse.
“I was with a guy who I train with a million times and we were moving, we were doing 50-percent movement skills with each other, shadow boxing and I was on with my brace. I was moving and I went to hit a pivot and the tissue just popped,” Cruz described when speaking to UFC Tonight.
“My knee felt unstable and shortly after I got off the mat I said something is wrong and I needed to sit down. I took my brace off and iced my knee immediately. I had some thoughts and I just figured there was no way that it happened from just moving. I was just shocked.”
What happened in reality was Cruz's body was rejecting the ligament from a cadaver that surgeons used to repair his own torn ACL.
“I was training and I found out the hard way that the cadaver tendon wasn’t as strong as at should have been at that point. It got weak and it failed because it didn’t take to my body as well as it should have. I was in my brace when it occurred. I was doing everything I was allowed to. The cadaver didn’t take to my body, it rejected it and the cadaver tendon failed and it split. It happens. There is nothing you can do,” said Cruz.
He went on to explain that when getting the type of knee surgery that he had there are two choices: grafting a part from your own body onto the knee, which is done with more cuts in surgery and requires extra rehab time, or the cadaver method, which ends with less time away from activity, but runs the greater risk of rejection.
Unfortunately for Cruz, his body rejected the graft from the cadaver.
Now after a second surgery, Cruz had the other type of ACL replacement done, and he's hopeful for a quick and speedy recovery.
“With my knee, that did not take place because the cadaver tissue didn’t take to my body like it should have. The cadaver tissue failed. This time I took the patellar tendon from my own knee and they put it to where the ACL is supposed to be, which is what GSP did,” Cruz commented, comparing his surgery to that of UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.
“Now my body has accepted it because it is my body, my tissue, my blood and it is automatically getting blood flow and healing as we speak. I am set back another six to eight months and I have to start the process all over.”
As soon as he found out the awful news, Cruz was obviously very emotional, and rightly so. It was just a year ago that Cruz defended his UFC bantamweight title against Demetrious Johnson before moving on to coach a season of The Ultimate Fighter opposite longtime rival Urijah Faber.
The sky was the limit for his future in 2012 until the knee injury put him on the sidelines, and this latest setback could keep him out for most of 2013 as well. Needless to say, Cruz was not happy, but when looking at the big picture and the things so many people are dealing with right now, his knee seemed small in the scope of the world.
“I’ve had my couple days of cry-baby time, per se. I allowed myself to be mad, be sad and be depressed, and you go through the ‘why me?’ stage. There is no point. Everyone is having a tough stage in life right now, it’s not just me. The economy is in a low state right now. It’s not, ‘woe is me.’ It’s ‘woe is everyone’ right now and I have to accept it. This is what I have to take to become the best athlete in the world. I am young and I will bounce back 100-percent as GSP did,” said Cruz.
“The problem is I am losing key time, key moments in my life and in the peak of my career. The only way I can explain my emotions to other people, who don’t have to rely on their body for the money and career, is that it is like you get dumped by a girl that you love very much, or you lost a family member. It breaks my heart and there is nothing you can do about it. You can only be patient and realize there is nothing you can do about it and suck it up. The hardest part about it is that I have said all these things to myself once already and now I have to say them to myself again. Again, this is the toughest time in my life. I have never gone through anything tougher than this and I’m going through it.”
What comes next for Cruz is starting over from scratch and rebuilding his knee to 100-percent again. He's focused on his health and getting back into action, but understands that life in the bantamweight division has to move on without him.
UFC president Dana White already confirmed that interim champion Renan Barao would defend his title against Michael McDonald in early 2013, and Cruz can be nothing more than a spectator. As far as potentially having his title stripped while he continues to push forward for his comeback, Cruz understands all sides of the argument.
“I have given everything I have including my body to have that title, so it means everything to me to have it, to earn it. But I have to understand that I am here to build the 135-pound weight class, the bantamweight division, and as a business I have to look at myself as part of the business. That being said, the division has other fighters who are healthy and ready to fight: Renan Barao, Michael McDonald, Mike Easton is on a rampage. There are a lot of guys in the division doing a lot of great things right now. Those are the things I have to think about right now, instead of putting my own selfish thoughts into it,” said Cruz.
“The two ways I look at it is: from a business angle and a personal angle, and together they kind of cancel themselves out. I have to suck it up and Zuffa and Dana White know exactly what they are doing, with the business, with me, and I have to trust that they will make the right decision. They make the decisions. There is nothing I can control. The second is I try to control that, and I will drive myself crazy. So, I leave it in God’s hands and I pray that things happen as they are supposed to.”