Notching yet another win in the ultra competitive bantamweight division, Raphael Assuncao wasted no time by calling out the former champion Dominick Cruz. He defeated Aljamain Sterling via split decision then proceeded to call out Cruz in the post fight interview.
Sitting on the desk for Fox duty, Cruz admitted that the callout was smart on Assuncao’s part but was quick to dismiss him. He insisted that Assuncao is not ready and that he’s only interested in fighting for the belt. For the 3rd ranked Assuncao, a fight with Cruz would make perfect sense moving forward.
“Here’s the thing, I respect the guy a lot he’s the former champ,” Assuncao said. “He’s acting cocky saying I’m only fighting for the belt, kind of his Fox personality in there. He has a lot of say because he’s in front of the camera quite a bit, a well spoken guy and I think that went to his head a little bit.”
Holding wins over multiple bantamweight contenders such as Bryan Caraway and Aljamain Sterling just last week, Assuncao feels he’s ready for a fight with Cruz. He is 1-1 with former champion TJ Dillashaw and even feels that Dillashaw should have gotten the nod last year when he lost his belt to Cruz.
“I’m just saying when he fought TJ in Boston, I felt TJ had him,” Assuncao explained. “If he thinks he’s that much better I mean I fought TJ twice. Even after he lost to Cody he was overanalyzing things but that’s his job. I think with all the camera and TV exposure he’s kind of imposing this other type of guy. He even at first said yeah that’s a smart callout from him but he doesn’t want to see me right now and stuff like that.”
His most recent win over Sterling may not have been his most impressive performance but felt he was able to control the fight and impose his will.
“I was a little bit surprised but with decisions anything can happen. I was confident that I did enough but there’s always that worry with the judges scoring.”
In a fight where people projected a heavy grappling affair, Assuncao was able to use his experience and sharp stand up skills to limit any heavy offense from his opponent. He stuffed all 3 of Sterling’s takedown attempts and was surprised that Sterling didn’t push for the takedown more.
“The game plan was to stuff his takedowns and in case he did take me down it was to surprise him on the ground. A couple of submission attempts then eventually reverse him or sweep him and get back to my feet and impose my stand up game.”
“I thought he was going to be more persistent to get me to the ground. I thought he would eventually force the takedown and get me to the ground momentarily and from there I would have probably reversed him and gotten to a better situation but it played it out differently. I’m pissed off because I didn’t get to play my ground game too.”
After being enlisted in the possible medical suspensions, he confirmed that he’s healthy and ready to go. Sterling was able to throw heavy leg kicks which proved to be his most effective weapon in the fight.
“I think my left knee from him kicking,” Assuncao said on potential injuries. “I think he broke his foot too so they were some pretty good kicks (laughs) but the knee is fine. I was just a little concerned with my meniscus but it’s good to go.”
A top contender and former title challenger, Assuncao is ready to get back into the title picture. A string of injuries kept him on the sideline for 2 years as he never got his earned shot at gold.
Although a fight with Cruz would most definitely be a title eliminator, Assuncao is not ready to sit around and wait. With Garbrandt and Dillashaw scheduled to fight sometime in the summer after coaching the Ultimate Fighter, he wants to ensure that he is the next challenger looming.
“I don’t have the star power to sit back and say I don’t want to fight this guy I want the belt like Cruz does,” Assuncao said. “I’ll fight anyone it’s just now it’s got to make sense too. I want to get back to contention, have my shot at the title so for me to do that I have to start planning my stuff correctly.”
Ready to get back in action around March/April, he expressed interest in possibly fighting in the UFC 209 card in Vegas. A fighter that is willing to take on all comers, Assuncao is now ready for the upper echelon of the division.