If I was to tell you that the night I suffered my sole professional loss also happened to be the moment I finally believed I could make it as a mixed martial artist, would you believe me? Well, regardless of whether you do or not, it's true. It sounds strange, but a March 2007 loss to Urijah Faber was the career turning point for me, and my impetus to work harder and truly become great at this sport. That was the moment I knew I could get somewhere and be somebody as a mixed martial artist. That loss made me never want to lose again.
Cast your minds back four years and remember what kind of beast I was up against that night in Las Vegas. Faber, a featherweight back then, was a big star of the sport and was on a rampage in the division when I fought him. Nobody had touched him or pushed him for years. He was at the absolute peak of his powers in 2007, and everybody said I was going to be up against it. I knew I'd be up against it.
Even though I was finished quickly in that fight, I knew what I did during the short time I was in there and took confidence from what I was able to get done in that frantic first round. I knew the only reason I lost was because I made a silly mistake and played into his hands. I had absolutely no grappling going into that fight and everybody knew that would be a problem for me. It was.
After that I fight I came to the realisation that if I had the right coaching and worked on my grappling the way I needed to, I would only come back from that defeat a better fighter. I now had lessons to learn from and I set my mind on using that defeat as the turning point. I was only going to shoot for greatness from that point on.
Also, you take a lot of self-belief from knowing you have seen the best, confronted the best and hung with the best, if only for a short period of time. I knew I wouldn't come up against anybody as good as Faber for a few years, and that provided me with the necessary time to learn, develop, improve and catch up. I believed that, so long as I learnt my lessons, I would get better and better and would eventually reach a point where I'd be able to fight Faber again and be confident of getting the victory. That whole first experience with Faber just lit a fire under my butt and forced me to become the fighter I am today.
A little over four years later, I received my shot at revenge. In May 2011, I successfully defended my UFC world bantamweight title against Faber, winning over five rounds, but, more than that, I gained the sense of revenge I had been yearning for since '07.
That victory against Faber wasn't just about proving I was better than Urijah, or even getting revenge - I simply needed to show that I was a better version of the scrawny and inexperienced guy that lost first time around. I wanted to show the world and myself that I had grown up and matured, and that's what I did. You only have to rewind the tape and look at my face at the end of the fight to get an idea of what that victory meant to me.
Even though I'd lost to Urijah the first time, I was very comfortable in there with him second time around. Experience had allowed me to relax and have faith in my skills, and by the time we met again, I had full belief in my ability to win that fight. I knew the match was only ever going to go one way.
It goes without saying, of course, that, while victorious, I made certain mistakes in that fight and was far from perfect. I was fighting with a lot of emotion and probably made some reckless errors as a result of that. I moved forward in that fight a lot and was in kill-em-all mode from the off, which worked at times, but hampered me at other points. Sometimes you need to maintain a clear head in a fight and try to think in a calculated manner. Unfortunately, because of the type of fight we were involved in, and because it meant so much to me, I wasn't able to do that against Faber. I wasn't as composed as I normally am, and that probably created a few openings for him throughout the twenty-five minutes we shared. At the same time, though, I'm very happy with the way I strung things together, stuck to the game plan and kept my emotions in check long enough to claim the ascendancy and win the fight.
I had to prove something to myself in that fight, and that is never easy. I am my own biggest critic, and it's taken years for me to believe in myself and reach a point where I feel I am the best in the world. I am harder on myself than anybody else ever could be. I needed that win over Faber to validate my claims and to prove to myself once and for all that I truly am the number one bantamweight in the world...
Follow Cruz on Twitter at @TheDomin8r
*** Dominick Cruz defends his UFC world bantamweight crown against Demetrious 'Mighty Mouse' Johnson on Saturday, October 1st, live on VERSUS ***