Dominick Cruz, current UFC Bantamweight Champion, has not seen the Octagon since October 1, 2011. On that night, he won his fourth-straight decision victory and made the first successful defense of his UFC strap (vs. Demetrious Johnson).
He was slated to fight Urijah Faber for the third time. The two would coach The Ultimate Fighter and then do battle. Late in the show, Cruz tore his ACL. He has incurred setback after setback, and has not made a return to fighting.
The UFC should strip him of his title for two big reasons.
The first is simple: he hasn't fought in over a year. A year absence should be standard for dropping the title, or taking a fighter out of official rankings.
The second, and more important, is that it will help Cruz if and when he should return. How?
It will alleviate the pressure of being the champion.
Cage rust is a real thing, and Cruz should be eased back into competition rather than thrown to whomever the champion may be. Do you really want a rusty Cruz to fight Renan Barao right away? It is a phenomenal matchup on paper. Shouldn't we wait until we know Cruz is back healthy?
Returning from this long of a layoff and a terrible knee injury will be a trying experience. He should not have to fight one of the pound-for-pound elite in his first match back. That is setting Cruz up for failure, and sets the fans up for disappointment.
Cruz's game is based on movement. He is one of the most active fighters inside the Octagon. We do not know if that will remain the case. We do not know how this injury will affect how he fights. That is reason enough to put him in against a top-10 opponent, but not the champion, in his first fight back.
The pressure of defending the championship is tough to deal with when a fighter is healthy. It is difficult to return from a lengthy layoff. However, the combination of the two puts an immense amount of weight upon the shoulders of Cruz. It is not fair to one of the sport's great fighters.
The UFC would be doing right by stripping him of the title, and saying if he wins his comeback fight he'll get an immediate shot. No one would disagree with that notion. It would be understandable, and allow everyone to make sure Cruz is on the right path.
The division has changed a lot in his absence. Contenders such as Michael McDonald have emerged, but the division still lacks the heat that Cruz brings.
Stripping the weight of being a champion from Cruz is in his best interest. The UFC will once again only have one champion in the division, and if Cruz returns 100 percent, they have an easy fight to sell in Cruz's second fight back.
It's time for Barao to be named Undisputed UFC Bantamweight Champion, and for the championship weight to be removed from Cruz.