Dominick Cruz’s comeback was so brief that if you had blinked you might have missed it, but in barely a minute of Octagon action he was able to derail Takeya Mizugaki’s title ambitions. The former UFC champion now faces another long spell on the sidelines but the Japanese bantamweight is left to pick up the pieces after seeing a five fight winning streak snapped.
That he lost to arguably the best fighter in the history of the division is scant consolation for Mizugaki, who believes he made some crucial mistakes in that UFC 178 match.
“I thought fighting Cruz was a huge chance for me so I was truly disappointed, not just because I lost but because I wanted to fight him for longer,” he said to me during an interview. “He has a very high level of ability, but I think I made a mistake by trying to chase him too much because I wanted to gain an initiative with strikes.”
By the time Mizugaki returns to the Octagon to face Aljamain Sterling at UFC on Fox 15 next month, it will have been eight months between fights. And after being beaten by a veteran former champion, he is taking on an undefeated contender.
Sterling is 10-0 overall with two wins out of two since signing for the UFC last year and Muzugaki says he is motivated by the challenge of taking on an opponent who is young, hungry and looking to use him as a stepping stone to climb up the rankings.
“He is a young fighter that has momentum but for the sake of my career I can't lose this fight, that is enough motivation for me. I know he’s good at wrestling but I always prepare as if my opponents is a high level wrestler so I just have to carry on doing what I've been doing.”
Mizugaki has been in with former WEC champions Urjah Faber and Brian Bowles as well as Torres. In the six years that he has been competing for American promotions he has probably faced just about every type of possible opponent.
Although Sterling is not the highest caliber wrestler on the UFC’s bantamweight roster he still has excellent credentials and was an NCAA Division III All-American whose mentor is fellow New Yorker and reigning 205 lbs champion Jon Jones.
In his two UFC fights to date Sterling has scored seven successful takedowns with a 78 per cent success rate. For Mizugaki the fight could hinge on whether he is able to nullify his opponent’s wrestling game but the 31 year old says he has complete faith in his training team’s ability to come up with a suitable strategy.
“I am with Hakkei Gym so I do striking training with fighters like, pro boxer and ex-K1 fighter Yoshimichi Matsumoto and fellow MMA fighters like Michinori Tanaka and ‘Yashabo’. Also, at Kenji Osawa's HEARTS, I train with Osawa-san, Masanori Kanehara, Satoru Kitaoka, and the other HEARTS fighters.”
Mizukagi’s UFC on Fox 15 fight in New Jersey on April 18th will be his 12th in the US but despite spending so much of his career competing there he says he has never been tempted to conduct a training camp outside of Japan and doesn’t believe it’s necessary to leave Tokyo in order to prepare to face a wrestler like Sterling.
“I go to Hosei University wrestling team for my wrestling training, I have never thought about training outside of Japan.”
Although Mizugaki is fully focused on his forthcoming UFC fight he does have a few words of sympathy for Cruz who is once again looking at an extended spell in rehab,
”I was so bummed when I heard that news about his injury, I really wanted to see him fight Dillashaw.”
While Cruz has been denied the immediate title shot he had presumably earned with that win over Mizugaki, his vanquished opponent is left looking to work his way back up the bantamweight rankings (having slipped down to #6).
It’s always disappointing to see a winning streak snapped but Mizugaki remains one of the division’s top dogs. He is hoping to get back on track for that elusive UFC title shot with a win over Sterling next month.
“I am not sure just winning this fight would put me back in the title mix but I think becoming the first fighter to ever defeat Sterling would be a big step in the right direction. That is my goal.”
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