Dominick Cruz Expected to Return Early 2014 to Unify Bantamweight Titles

Damon Martin@@DamonMartinContributor ISeptember 10, 2013

AVONDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 11:  Ultimate Fighting Championship Bantamweight fighter Dominick Cruz speaks to the media prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 11, 2012 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

October 2013 will mark two years since the last time UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz competed and defended his belt inside the Octagon.

In 2012, while training for a bout against Urijah Faber at UFC 148, Cruz blew out his knee and had to have complete ACL replacement surgery. To compound his misery, the cadaver ligament used to repair the knee was rejected by Cruz's body and he had to undergo the entire process again.

Since that time, the UFC has moved on to crown a new interim bantamweight champion in Renan Barao, and for the second time he will defend that belt when he faces Eddie Wineland at UFC 165 in Toronto.

During his time away from fighting, the UFC has stood behind Cruz and allowed him to maintain his status as champion regardless of how long he was going to be out of action.

Now it seems Cruz is finally ready to target a return date to the cage in early 2014.

"He came in here a few weeks ago and had lunch with me and Lorenzo (Fertitta), he was very confident that he would be ready to go at the beginning of the year," UFC president Dana White said on Tuesday.

Cruz has been rehabbing his knee for the past few months, strengthening his muscles and starting to get back into shape again for his return to action.

The key has been giving him enough time to recover after two major knee surgeries back-to-back, but the time is starting to tick away on how much longer the UFC can maintain two bantamweight champions.

The winner of the fight between Barao and Wineland will expect to meet Cruz in early 2014 when he's healthy so UFC can unify the belts and an undisputed bantamweight champion can be crowned.

If Cruz's timeline to get back to fighting changes, White admits they will have to reassess things and make a decision regarding the status of the bantamweight title.

"I certainly hope so, I hope this is the last time it will be the interim title fight," White said. "We're expecting (Dominick Cruz's) return at the beginning of the year, and if he can't return at the beginning of the year, then we're going to have to make a decision."

Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.