UFC bantamweight champion Dominick CruzIt has been nearly two years since UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz last fought, and everyone wants to know when he will be back in action.

Unfortunately, Cruz has the same question as everyone else, as he has yet to be cleared by doctors to even begin full-on training.

Cruz, following a coaching stint opposite Urijah Faber on The Ultimate Fighter Live, was supposed to have defended his belt against his longtime rival last summer, but had to pull out of the fight due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered during training.

He had surgery in May of 2012, repairing the knee with the ligament from a cadaver, which theoretically should have sped up his rehabilitation time.

Cruz’s body, however, rejected the foreign tissue, so he had to go back under the knife in late 2012 for a second ACL surgery. He’s been steadily working his way back, but doctor’s have kept him on the slow track to be sure he doesn’t suffer anymore setbacks.

If all goes as planned, Cruz could be back in the cage in early 2014.

“I’m looking to be back early next year,” the champ said in an interview with InsideMMA. “I can’t give an exact date because, the truth is, I haven’t even been cleared by a doctor.

“First three, four, five months (of 2014). I hate to say that because it’s so much time, but I have to be real with myself. I’ve already had double-ACL surgery. This isn’t a game.”

Renan Barão won the interim title during Cruz’s absence. And having been sidelined for so long, nearly everyone’s patience has been tested, Cruz’s as much as anyone’s. There has been an abundance of chatter about stripping Cruz of the belt.

That hasn’t happened, and it’s not going to happen, as long as Cruz continues on his current path to recovery.

“Dana (White) and Lorenzo (Fertitta) sit and tell me, ‘No, we’re not taking anything from you.’ They’ve had my back in this situation,” said Cruz.

“They’ve been very, very supportive, and I’m very appreciative to the UFC for the rest of my life for the way they’ve taken care of me. They could have handled this several different ways. They’ve been very supportive.”

When Cruz returns, he wants to fight the interim champion and immediately unify the belts. It’s a fight that makes sense, and a fight that he, as champion, has every right to expect.

Barão has his next bout already lined up against Eddie Wineland at UFC 165 on Sept. 21 in Toronto, but it’s clear that Cruz is pulling for him. He wants Barão to be the man he first faces when he gets back in the Octagon.

“Renan Barão has beaten a lot of the same guys (as I have). This is a fight that I can come back and fight Renan,” Cruz declared. “That’s who I want right off the bat. If nothing else, I deserve to come back and get that title shot. It’s something that I think I’ve earned the right to.

“The truth is, I deserve that fight, and I’m gonna get it,” he continued. “I’m fighting time, and when I get back, I’ll be fighting Barão.”

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