Words

I Ate Lunch With Dominick Cruz

Fightland Blog

By Josh Rosenblatt

UFC Bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz and I share a birthday. March 9. Wikipedia says he was born on September 3 but he tells me he was born on March 9. I'm not sure who to believe.

I find this out because I’m eavesdropping on Cruz's conversation with a reporter from Hombre magazine (“For Men of Passion”), and she just asked him when he was born. Cruz has been sitting at a table in a restaurant in Midtown Manhattan surrounded by reporters for an hour now as part of a press junket for his upcoming fight versus Renan Barao in Newark, New Jersey, which means he’s been fielding the worst, most predictable questions any fighter could imagine fielding: How do you feel? How’s your training going? Is this the biggest fight of your career? And so on and so on and so on …

The reporter from Hombre, though, is smart. She knows the best way to keep an athlete at a press junket from dying of boredom is to ask questions no else asks. So she asks what his sign is. The problem is, Cruz doesn’t know.

“Well, when’s your birthday?” she asks.

“March 9,” he says.

I see my opportunity.

“That’s my birthday as well,” I say.

Cruz looks at me.

“You can’t have my birthday,” he says.

“I had it first,” I say. Cruz is in his late 20s, and I’m in my late 30s. I’ve got him by a decade. “You can’t have my birthday.”

The reporter from Hombre is excited. “You’re both Pisces,” she says. But Cruz doesn’t care about astrology, and he doesn’t know what it means to be a Pisces.

The reporter gets out her phone, finds an astrology Web site, and starts reading out loud.

“Pisces is the 12th sign of the Zodiac,” she says." Pisces are known for being emotional. Pisces are happy and very focused on their inner journey. They also place great weight on how they’re feeling. They’re very emotional. Many people associate Pisces with dreams and secrets. They go with the flow. Pisces are easygoing. They have intuitive, almost psychic natures. Pisces are very creative.”

“That sounds just like me,” I say, trying to be helpful. Cruz won’t budge, though.

“I’m not very creative,” he says.

“Oh,” says the reporter. “It must be because of your moon sign.”

Cruz’s skepticism is now palpable. “Oh, okay,” he says with a grin.  

The reporter looks back at her phone. “I don’t think I trust this source I’m getting this from,” she says. Cruz laughs, his doubts confirmed.

“Now you’re gonna blame the Web site?” he says. “The source and not the stars.” Cassius couldn’t have said it better.

A waitress comes over to the table. I order the Caesar Salad (for that “lean and hungry look”). Cruz orders the sesame seared ahi tuna.

“How do you want that cooked?” the waitress asks. 

“Umm, I thought it came seared,” Cruz said.

“So every rare?”

“I guess, yeah.”

A reporter from AP sits down next to me, plops a voice recorder down in front of Cruz, and starts asking about welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre’s recent admission that he couldn’t remember what happened during a recent fight. With all the talk out there about concussions and brain damage, does what GSP said concern Cruz?

“No. I don’t remember one of my fights. Not one,” Cruz says. “I won’t remember this conversation when we’re done. I just talk. I don’t remember one fight after I get done at that press conference. You’re in a whirlwind. It’s like asking after you’ve been in a car accident if you remember everything. Would you?”

The AP reporter says he wouldn’t.

“Hell no!” Cruz says. “I guarantee you wouldn’t. You just got hit in the face with a bag of air. I get hit in the face for 25 minutes with punches, kicks, knees, and elbows, and your adrenaline is so high that your body shuts off everything except your adrenaline and survival mode. It doesn’t surprise me or shock me that GSP couldn’t remember. He just admitted it. A lot of fighters don’t.”

“Why won’t you remember this conversation?” I ask.

“Because I just talk,” Cruz says. "I don’t think about what I’m saying. Just black out and speak.”

The waitress brings our food. The reporter from Hombre, who also ordered the seared tuna, keeps looking at Cruz’s plate. She says she wishes she’d gotten it rare as well.

While we’re eating, a public relations guy from the UFC brings over Cruz’s championship belt for us to see and for photographers to take pictures of. It’s huge and gold and surreal to see up close. Someone jokes that it would be a great thing to keep in your car in case you get pulled over. The surest way to get out of a ticket. 

“Actually,” Cruz says. “It’s 50/50. A lot of cops will bust you just because you’re a UFC fighter. I pray when I get pulled over they don’t recognize me.” He pauses. “But I don’t get pulled over."

“You get busted for being a UFC fighter?” I ask, looking up from my salad.

“No, it’s just some cops have agendas.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, definitely.”

“Like what?”

“What do you mean ‘like what’?”

“What’s their agenda?”

“To bust our asses! My friend [UFC lightweight] Ross Pearson got busted in Vegas for nothing. Because the cop was just like, ‘Oh, you’re a UFC fighter? Get in the back of the car.’ Busted. Screwed him.”

This surprises me. “I would think cops would like UFC fighters.”

“I said it’s hit or miss, 50/50,” Cruz says. “A lot of fighters get off on stuff. But some cops think a lot of athletes get off on stuff because they’re athletes, so they have an agenda: ‘Oh you’re an athlete? Okay.’ It works like that. But it can also be like, ‘I’m a fan.’ I try to not let anyone know who I am because it just changes the dynamic of everything once it’s found out. I’d rather them not know who I am because then they act normal first. You want to see how someone is normal before they find something out. And then you see the change. If you start talking to somebody as the champ, you’re different. They’re nervous, they’re not themselves. Or they don’t like you right off the bat. It changes things. I stay undercover.”

Cruz turns back to his food and I start talking to a PR woman from the Prudential Center in Newark, where Cruz’s fight with Barao will be held in February. She keeps looking at her phone. I ask her if everything’s all right. Yes, she says, she’s just busy getting things ready for the arrival that night of Disney on Ice.

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