By Case Keefer
Las Vegas Sun
A champion is a champion is a champion, even if 42 fight cards and 17 full moons have passed since he last defended his belt.
So no, the UFC won’t strip bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz of his championship despite a string of inactivity due to injuries dating back to Oct. 1, 2011.
"I hate taking something like that away from somebody," UFC President Dana White said in a press conference this week. "The way it works in the fight business is, you beat the man who beat the man."
Renan Barao and Michael McDonald will fight for a 135-pound divisional title Saturday in the main event of London's UFC on Fuel TV 7, but it's not losing the "interim" tag. The UFC hopes it can pit the victor against Cruz before the end of the year.
Nothing's certain, however, when it comes to Cruz, who seems to suffer as many debilitating injuries as a Mr. Potato Head toy. Cruz broke his hand for the second time in his last title defense, a unanimous-decision victory over current flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson at UFC on Versus 6.
He then tore his ACL while coaching opposite Urijah Faber on "The Ultimate Fighter" and had to have a second surgery when the initial procedure failed. Cruz is yet to return to training, though reports indicate he could finally be coming close.
"I've never seen anybody with worse luck than this kid's had over the last several years," White said.
"If he starts training again and gets another injury that's going to take him out another year -- I hate to even say this because I love the kid, he's a really good kid, but he should seriously look at probably retiring."
In White's mind, retirement is the only way Cruz would be forced to vacate his belt. The UFC has only taken away a title for injury concerns once in its history.
That was when local heavyweight Frank Mir broke his leg in his motorcycle accident in 2004, leaving him unable to defend his championship for a year and a half.
Mir ultimately returned to the UFC, which appears hesitant to go the same route with the bantamweight division. It helps that none of the top fighters are pushing for it.
Barao, who became interim champion by beating Faber by unanimous decision, will gladly take as many fights as possible until Cruz returns.
"I don't think on this," Barao said through a translator. "Who's going to decide is the UFC. I'm just an employee and whatever the UFC wants, I'll accept it."
McDonald claims he doesn't even think about the belt. At 22 years old, he would become the youngest champion in UFC history with a victory over Barao but won't even let that fact register.
"I'm human like anybody else and my mind and emotions are open for corruption if I let it in," McDonald said. "I don't want anything different from any of my other fights. This is just another day. Maybe afterwards I'll think about it and be happy with myself."
Barao and McDonald have established themselves as the second- and third-best 135-pound fighters in the UFC. Either would present significant challenges to Cruz, if they ever get the chance.
"Hopefully he comes back soon," White said. "But that's all I can really say."
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