UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz hasn’t fought since defeating Demetrious Johnson via decision two years ago. His ongoing battles with a devastating series of knee surgeries has many wondering about how effective he will be upon his return to the Octagon.

And for good reason, as Cruz is slated to face off with current interim bantamweight champ Renan Barao at next February’s UFC 169. Last seen destroying former WEC champ Eddie Wineland at UFC 165, Barao has been mowing down top-level foes with ruthless efficiency. There are huge question marks about how the long layoff will affect Cruz.

‘The Dominator’ appeared on last night’s edition of AXS TV’s “Inside MMA” to state his belief that ring rust is not a concept that he buys into:

‘I feel that cage rust is something that’s brought up to give odds makers something to bet on. I think you can work it completely out of your system as long as you’re in training camp and training correctly. The biggest part about ring rust is the mental part. I think a lot of that comes from not being able to control your adrenaline, not being able to understand where you are at, not being able to relax at the right times in the fight when you need to, and you can figure all of that out, not only mentally by training your mind, but in camp you put yourself in those predicaments and rough situations. You fight out of them and that’s how you prepare for ring rust. It won’t be an issue and I will be ready on the night of the fight.”

Cruz may raise a lot of interesting points here, but the fact remains that he will be returning to fight an absolute buzz saw after one of the longest layoffs we’ve ever seen. Cruz’s main strength was his nonstop footwork; he’ll have to fully regain that aspect of his game if he wants to contend with Barao. Cruz insists that he’s already back to that point:

“You know my footwork is as good as ever. The biggest thing is getting your timing back, getting your rhythm back… your reaction time without thinking. That’s what takes time to get back and that’s what the camp is going to be about. But as for footwork, it’s all exactly where I left it and I’ve got some new tricks up my sleeve.”

He’s going to need some serious tricks to outfox a challenger like Barao. If he can pull off the win, he’ll instantly silence all the critics who believe that he should have been stripped of the title long ago.

But that’ll be far from an easy task. One would have to assume that Cruz will need at least a round or two to get reaccustomed to the pace of the Octagon. Against a fighter like Barao, the fight not might last that long. Despite having a top-notch coaching staff and team in place at Alliance MMA, the odds will not be in Cruz’ favor.

Will he be the man to end Barao’s legendary unbeaten streak?