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By: Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief
The ACL injury to UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz is a massive blow to the UFC. Not only does it cost them a major co-main event title rematch between Cruz and Urijah Faber, it also kills the resources they've put into promoting the fight through "The Ultimate Fighter: Live."
Last week's ninth episode of the reality show, now airing live fights weekly, drew just 954,000 viewers. That's five weeks straight where the show has drawn around one million viewers, by far the lowest marks for the show in its 15 seasons. Now, the boost they were hoping for with pitting these two against each other as coaches is killed without a payoff, and they've still got another month of the show left.
So what do they do with The Ultimate Fighter? We've seen this situation play out before in the 11th season of the program, when Tito Ortiz left the show to get neck surgery. If Cruz's knee injury is one requiring surgery, it won't make sense to keep him on the show as a coach, as that time would be better spent taking care of his injury, resting, and recovering.
But if he gets pulled from his coaching duties, with several weeks still remaining in the show, what does the UFC do on that front? There are three viable names for Urijah Faber to fight at UFC 148 in July in place of Cruz, but none of them work as replacements on The Ultimate Fighter.
21-year-old Michael McDonald is an option should the UFC go with an Interim Title at UFC 148, but even though he just knocked out Miguel Torres, Faber may be an especially poor stylistic matchup for him at this stage in his career. He's also not a viable replacement for TUF, as he's not an established veteran with an established camp of coaches to bring in.
Similar problems are in play for Renan Barao. The Brazilian is a fantastic bantamweight, and the clear name deserving of a chance to fight for an Interim Bantamweight Championship against Urijah Faber. He's already scheduled on the card at UFC 148, and McDonald can be plugged into his fight against Ivan Menjivar if he's pulled up to fight Faber. That takes care of what to do with Faber in July, but still doesn't help finish out the final month of this show on FX.
The final option to face Faber is only an option if there is no Interim belt on the line. Brad Pickett looked fantastic in his last bout against Damacio Page, and would make for a solid competitor against Faber. However, he's not deserving of a shot at any title at this point and wouldn't be an option for TUF, either.
There really is no option to salvage The Ultimate Fighter right now. Cruz could stay on and finish coaching his team for the final month, but that's not necessarily the best option for him and his recovery. In the event he's pulled from the show, the UFC doesn't have any legitimate options for replacing him.
If he requires surgery, he'll be out until next year at the earliest, meaning an Interim Bantamweight Championship bout would make sense for UFC 148. In that event, the fight to make is Faber-Barao, with McDonald-Menjivar taking place on the same card. Again, the fight to make is the easy part, but there is no clear and reasonable option available to replace Cruz on TUF if he doesn't stay on as a coach.
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Jamie Penick, editor-in-chief
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