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Friday, 11/08/2013, 08:08 am

Cruz says he wanted Barao fight and no one else

Dominick Cruz wanted to jump right back into the fire.

Cruz, the UFC bantamweight champ, has been out of commission for 18 months due to an ACL injury that required two surgeries.

While on rehab, burgeoning phenom Renan Barao earned the 135-pound interim title and has defended it twice against Michael McDonald and most recently Eddie Wineland.

A patient Cruz has been allowed to return to action and will do so against the Barao, who hasn’t lost in eight years, at UFC 169 on Feb 2 in New Jersey.

By the time that fight comes along it will be 28 months since “The Dominator” has heard the UFC cage door close.

For Cruz, he felt there was no need for tune-up fight. He told “The MMA Hour,” anyone other than Barao would have been a move in the right direction.

“That’s the fight I wanted since I hurt myself. That’s a fight I wanted before I hurt myself. He brings so much to the table, he’s done so much in the sport, he’s done so much for the division. That’s why I’m in this. I’m in this to challenge myself, not to go back to the No. 10 guy in the division and take a step back. If I was coming off no fights and they offered me the best guy on the planet, I’d take it. Because what’s the point of taking steps backward in the sport?”

Do you think it is wise for Cruz to fight Barao right off the bat? Would it be wise to knock the ring rust off against a less formidable opponent?

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