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On Saturday, I get another chance to become a world champion, but this time a UFC bantamweight champion. It's been such an amazing road for me so far, and being a champion is something I've unknowingly been preparing for my entire life. Before mixed martial arts was spread to the world, before I knew what MMA was, I believed in myself and wanted to fight.
All of my favorite movies growing up were martial-arts movies. I was infatuated with the Bruce Lee, Jean Claude Van Damn and the Chuck Norris franchises, and imagined being them on the playground. I followed boxing with my pop, my bro and our neighbor, Lee. Lee was on point with boxers like Tommy "The Gun" Morrison, Mike Tyson, Prince Naseem Hamed, Roy Jones Junior; these were my real-life heroes. When the UFC hit in the early '90s, I was infatuated. The world stopped when the fights were on TV.
I had ton of favorites like Mark Coleman, with his slams and ability to pound guys out. Actually, I loved Tank Abbott. I thought it was great when he would do interviews and say funny stuff, and I was really impressed when Tito Ortiz first jumped on the scene. He was in the fight world with charisma. It was always so unpredictable and raw. I remember thinking nobody would ever beat Vitor Belfort and then felt pride when Randy Couture used his wrestling to stop him.
After being such a fan, right now being in the UFC is such an inspiring time for me. I am fighting for the crown jewel of a world that I've loved ever since I can remember. Showcasing my skills on a card with guys that I have looked up to over the years – and doing it at a time when the sport is at its best!
The UFC belt now represents exactly what I wanted to be ever since I was a kid: the best in the world. Winning the UFC bantamweight title in the main event of UFC 132 won't mean any more than winning the WEC featherweight title. It will mean the same – symbolism for being the best – but it will be different. The UFC is a bigger stage, and I'm happy to be in the first bantamweight main event in the history of the UFC.
I'm fighting the reigning champion, Dominick Cruz, who I have beaten before. But I know that in my heart it's not a time to enjoy the moment and all my hard work, it's time to seize the moment and prove to myself that I am the best.
I beat Cruz in a defense of my WEC title four years ago. I won with a guillotine in the first round, but Cruz had chip on his shoulder about me before he even met me. During the week of our first fight – before I even met the guy – he'd disrespected me and showed me how he operates when he wrote all over my face on the posters for the event.
I had nothing to do with the design of the poster – but the guy is an emotional mess. He goes from throwing himself pity-parties to praising himself for all that he brings to MMA.
He likes recounting his deprived upbringing (which doesn't sound that bad, in my opinion) and pondering how he could reach the heights he has with all that's wrong in his life. Along the way he has made mention of how things have been "handed" to me in my career of nearly 30 fights (which started nearly eight years ago in tiny American Indian casinos, the only place allowed in California at the time), managed to deface more posters of me in gyms and make negative statements about me over the years in gyms in my home state of California.
I've brushed it off and followed my own road, but one truth remains: I have someone that chose me as an enemy out there. Cruz is fueled by negativity, jealousy and revenge. The best part is I don't have many enemies, and I get to take destiny into my own hands. Like most everything in my life, I've found a way to have fun with my foe, so I embrace the bitterness, add a creative campaign to stoke the fire and prepare for a great battle.
Every opportunity I've had, I worked my butt off to get, but I really enjoy what I am doing in this world. When I started in MMA, the sport wasn't even legal in California. I worked my ass off making $7,000 a year as a coach, bussing tables, coaching kids, working 16-, 17-hour days as well as training. For my first fight in 2003, I was paid $200 to show, $200 to win. I've had nothing given to me. I got to where I am because I worked hard for it.
Usually, punching someone in the face is good therapy. You shake hands afterward and move on. I think that didn't happen last time because Dominick was upset that I beat him so quickly. I agree with him that he has improved since then, but he had a lot of room to get better.
I'm the type of person who focuses on being positive and improving, and I feel this is just my time. Even though I've been a world champion, I feel my time is now. When I first fought Cruz, I hadn't even started working with my trainer, Master Thong. I never stopped working on my jiu-jitsu and I've learned so much about myself as a fighter – fighting with broken hands, fighting guys like Jose Aldo and not quitting when things seemed hopeless.
I feel faster at 135 lbs. than I was 145, and I'm not constantly under pressure to gain weight. My training is more calculated and professional, my life is more stable and organized than it has ever been. Cutting weight is not fun but it's something I've done since I was in the eighth grade. I've got a ton of experience under my belt, and I am ready to show everyone that I am the best bantamweight in the world on Saturday.