With the news that UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz has suffered an ACL injury and is out of his title fight against Urijah Faber at UFC 148 in July, there is another issue that has arisen: What happens to Cruz’s team on The Ultimate Fighter: Live?

This marks the third time in the last five seasons that the promotion has had something go awry with the reality show. In season 11, Tito Ortiz was forced out due to a neck injury and was replaced by Rich Franklin against Chuck Liddell. Season 13 saw Brock Lesnar forced out of action due to diverticulitis and replaced by Shane Carwin against Junior dos Santos—albeit, after the show was done taping.

However, the current situation has an added twist because it is being broadcast live on FX each Friday night. With only three episodes remaining before the Finale on June 1, what does the UFC do now?

There are a number of options, but three of them stand out as the most likely and most logical.

1. Let Cruz finish coaching his team

This is a true catch 22 for the promotion. On one hand, you don’t have to rebrand the show and the existing promotional material stays as is. But, on the flip side, you’re setting up a confusing situation later down the road when Cruz won’t be opposing Faber on July 7.

Additionally, you have to wonder if Cruz would even want to continue coaching after such devastating news. Obviously, he is facing surgery and a lengthy rehab. Can he focus on his team? Clearly the fighters on the show would benefit from having Cruz stick around for the next month from a stability standpoint, but if his heart is not in it, should he be allowed to?

2. Bring in Renan Barao

The Brazilian may not even be option B in the promotion’s or the network’s mind. However, despite his lack of fluency in English, it would be an injustice if he isn’t considered as Cruz’s replacement if the promotion holds an interim title fight involving Faber. His 29-fight unbeaten streak—including a perfect 5-0 under the Zuffa umbrella—is more than enough justification to give him the opportunity.

If Junior dos Santos could hold his own on the reality show, Barao could likely do the same, right?

3. Let the kid have a shot (i.e. Michael McDonald)

If Cruz doesn’t continue as the coach and the promotion isn’t comfortable with having to subtitle Barao’s limited English, then the other choice would be Michael McDonald. Like Barao, the 21-year-old is a perfect 5-0 between the WEC and UFC. And he’s coming off an impressive, first-round finish of former champion Miguel Torres at UFC 145.

McDonald may not have the same winning streak as Barao, but he makes for another strong alternative if the UFC chooses to replace Cruz.

Regardless of what the promotion decides to do, the whole situation is unfortunate for everyone involved. While it’s not quite the worst case imaginable, it’s close. But judging from seasons past, the show must go on and everyone will just have to roll with the changes.

Photo: Dominick Cruz (L) celebrates his UFC 132 win over Urijah Faber (Rob Tatum/The MMA Corner)

  • Brian McKenna

    I agree with what you’ve said here Rob. But one thing that needs to be taken into consideration no matter what happens with Cruz’s potential opponent, and that is that the show is about the fighters looking to earn a contract, not about the coaches. Sure, the show is a catalyst and a billboard for promoting a now defunct title shot, but ultimately they need to do what is best for the final eight fighters, even if that means giving Barao or McDonald an interim title shot and keeping Cruz to coach across Faber.