The injury bug has killed countless main events throughout 2012, and we’ve seen a ton of top fighters have their careers altered by the epidemic of serious injuries sustained over the course of the last 12 months.

However, no fighter has been hit nearly as hard as current bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz.

It’s been 14 long months since Cruz last found himself inside the Octagon, when he successfully defended his belt against current flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson, and despite “The Dominator’s” desire to get back in action, it isn’t likely going to happen any time soon.

Cruz suffered a serious ACL injury while preparing for his scheduled rubber match with Urijah Faber this summer, and while his initial recovery time would have had him ready to return as soon as the spring, the champion recently blew out his knee for the second time in less than a year and will need to add another six to nine months of recovery time before he gets back inside the cage.

Even if everything goes to plan and Cruz gets back into the cage by June or July of next year, it will have been over a year and a half since “The Dominator” competed in the Octagon, and any sort of aggravation to the injury could keep Cruz out of action for a full two years.

As unfair as it is to the champion, if the UFC wants the bantamweight division to remain even a little relevant over the next year, it may need to strip Cruz of his 135-pound strap.

Obviously, Cruz has no control over his current situation and under any other circumstance it would be downright criminal to take away the belt that Cruz worked so hard to earn over the last few years. But we’ve seen too many divisions get caught in limbo due to inactive title holders over the last year, and the UFC cannot afford to make the same mistake when it comes to Cruz.

The ACL injury suffered by welterweight king Georges St-Pierre effectively killed any forward progress for anyone near the top of that division, and once Carlos Condit earned himself a golden ticket to fight the returning GSP with his interim title win earlier this year, it became a long wait for the rest of the top contenders in the stacked 170-pound division.

Even with GSP finally back in action, the division hasn’t completely recovered.

Top contender Johny Hendricks has made a compelling case to be considered the next challenger for St-Pierre’s belt with his current three-fight winning streak, especially after destroying both Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann inside of a minute.

Nevertheless, the champion has a bit of unfinished business with the more popular, less deserving Nick Diaz, and it appears that MMA’s favorite bad boy may get the first shot at GSP.

In a perfect world, Hendricks would have gotten the shot he believed earned after taking a close decision over Josh Koscheck in March, but the injury to St-Pierre and Condit’s refusal to put his interim belt on the line for anyone other than GSP forced Hendricks to take the fight against the aforementioned Kampmann, and now “Bigg Rigg” could have to wait another six to nine months before he gets the opportunity he’s earned.

To the UFC’s credit, the promotion has learned from its mistakes over the last year.

When Cruz suffered his injury this summer, the UFC wasted no time in putting together a fight for an interim belt between Faber and Renan Barao, and following Cruz’s most recent setback, it made sure to book Barao in a title fight with the up-and-coming Michael McDonald as soon as possible.

While the UFC successfully avoided having another division with two inactive champions, the fact remains that Barao’s interim title means about as much as one of the replica belts you can buy online.

No matter how many times Barao defends that interim title in Cruz’s absence, he’s still going to be looked at as a glorified No. 1 contender until he is able to get into the cage opposite Cruz.

It’s easy to understand why the promotion loves the idea of an interim belt from a marketing standpoint, as it gives the UFC a chance to sell the upcoming Barao-McDonald bout as a title fight and eventually will lead into a big title unification fight once Cruz returns. But if Cruz is continually kept out of action, it will eventually cause the entire division to become overlooked.

Unless Barao gets the interim tag removed from his championship reign, he’s never going to be taken seriously as a champion. The Nova Uniao-based fighter is one of the most skilled warriors on the UFC roster, and most fans believed he had a solid shot at becoming a UFC champion eventually anyway, but the word ‘interim’ essentially means second best when it comes to the best fighters in the world.

You can’t strip every fighter of their title the second they get injured, but due to the extent of Cruz’s injuries, along with the chance of “The Dominator” getting hurt again before he gets a chance to unify the belts, it makes more sense to take Cruz’s title away than to let him hold onto it while sitting on the sidelines.

When Cruz is ready to return, he absolutely should get the first shot available to earn back his belt. But unless the UFC can be sure that Cruz will make a full recovery and come back in a reasonable amount of time, it needs to take the belt away from the champion and let Barao and McDonald duke it out for the top spot when they fight in February.

The bantamweight division may take years to recover if they don’t.

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

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.