It’s like the iconic scene out of Planet of the Apes where Charlton Heston sees the half-sunken Statue of Liberty in the sand and the face of the planet he once knew irrevocably changed. Much like that scene, former UFC bantamweight kingpin Dominick Cruz is returning to a division he once ruled with an iron fist only to find that it looks quite different than it had been before he was sidelined following his last successful defense in October 2011.

The entire bantamweight division has been shaken up in the three years since his last fight. Now, after multiple injuries kept him sidelined for these last few years, Cruz eyes a return to the UFC in August or September. For Cruz, it has been a very long time.

In fact, it has been so long for Cruz that current bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw had yet to fight in the UFC and was still on The Ultimate Fighter when Cruz last fought. Even former champion Renan Barao had yet to be ranked and was a month away from making his sophomore appearance for the promotion.

Out the top 10 fighters ranked by Sherdog at the time, the only ones still competing and currently ranked by the UFC’s new rankings at bantamweight are Urijah Faber and Takeya Mizugaki.

Some—Joseph Benavidez, Scott Jorgensen, Demetrious Johnson and Brad Pickett—have moved to the flyweight division. Miguel Torres has been cut, Brian Bowles was suspended in May 2013 for nine months and has yet to come back to fight, and Masakatsu Ueda dropped his most recent effort under the ONE FC banner in May and is unranked by major outlets.

The fact is there has been a lot of turnover in the division. Coming back, Cruz may have a hard time navigating the waters and reclaiming what is rightfully his. The only reason Cruz doesn’t have the belt any more isn’t because he lost, but because he was hurt and unable to defend it.

It has been major injury after major injury for the former king of the bantamweight division. Two ACL surgeries and a torn groin later, and he has to come back and go through the line once again. He’ll have to take out a wildly talented Dillashaw that has become part Cruz with his footwork and part Barao with his power.

The injuries he has to overcome and the lengthy layoff will be absolutely brutal. For at least the next year, if he does return in August or September, it will be even more brutal having to climb back up the ladder.

Success from this long of a layoff and major injuries in combat sports is extremely rare. Furthermore, Cruz has to make his comeback against the best the UFC has to offer. The top three of the division—Dillashaw, Barao and Faber—are tough guys. Even though Cruz has beaten Faber before, injuries could have sapped something from him. His footwork might not be what it once was, and there’s always the factor of ring rust.

The layoff has done one good thing for Cruz, though, and that is to allow him to rest up. Cruz’s skill set is certainly nothing to scoff at or overlook, and he does have the ability to overcome the layoff and regain his old form, assuming he can stay healthy.

But the division is different now. It consists of a whole new group of guys Cruz has never faced before. From guys like Michael McDonald and Raphael Assuncao to Barao and Dillashaw, they’re all great fighters who have only improved in the time Cruz has been sidelined.

Before fully saying Cruz is done, we have to watch him fight and see where he’s at. Cruz has earned that right. You can only respect what Cruz has done in the cage. However, this isn’t his first comeback attempt. His highly anticipated return was slated to happen early this year, and it seemed plausible that he could fully regain his form after his ACL surgeries. But then he got hurt again, and then Dillashaw showed something against Barao that got people thinking he could be the champion for a while.

It will be a tough road for Cruz. He’ll have to navigate around every pothole and every bump. But between the layoff, the injuries and the change in the division, it might turn out to be too much for the former champ to overcome. Things are different now. There is a whole new species of fighter at the top of the division just chomping at the bit to be the best fighter the bantamweights have ever seen before. Cruz will have his work cut out for him.

About The Author

Sal DeRose
Staff Writer

Sal hails from New Jersey and is currently training for his first MMA fight. He hopes to use his knowledge and insight to generate articles that interest and entertain you. Outside of MMA, Sal is a big fan of every other sport. He's a diehard New York sports fan, with the exception of cheering for the Packers.