Former WEC and UFC bantamweight champion, Dominick Cruz returns on March 6 at UFC 259 — headlining the preliminary portion of the card against the streaking Casey Kenney, but a certain chip appears to remain on his shoulder following his knockout loss to former titleholder, Henry Cejudo last May.

Replacing former featherweight kingpin, Jose Aldo on short-notice at UFC 249, Cruz made his Octagon return for the first time in three years following his title loss to Cody Garbrandt at UFC 207 — clashing with Cejudo for the bantamweight crown.

Dropping just his third professional loss against the former two-weight world champion and Olympic gold medalist, Cruz suffered a second round knockout defeat after eating catching a knee on the entry, before subsequent ground strikes. With just two-seconds remaining before the klaxon would sound, referee Keith Peterson separated the two — with Cejudo wheeling away in celebration. 

Speaking with UFC reporter, Megan Olivi afterwards, Cruz voiced his displeasure with Peterson’s stoppage, before controversially claiming the official had smelled like alcohol and cigarettes backstage as he gave his pre-fight instructions and laid out the ruleset. The San Diego native also questioned if it would be possible to veto a referee from officiating your fight in the future.

Touching on the stoppage defeat to Cejudo during a recent interview with ESPN MMA reporter, Ariel Helwani, Cruz claimed once more that Peterson stopped his fight prematurely.

I believe Keith Peterson gave him (Henry Cejudo) a nice gift with that (stoppage),” Cruz said. “I was, you know — yeah I got hurt and I shouldn’t have put myself in that position but I was — if you talk to the refs, and you talk to anybody — you have a couple things you need to do in order to keep the fight going. You need to be defending yourself and you need to be working into a better position. I was doing both of those things when the fight got stopped.

You can’t be knocked out when you’re standing up on your feet while someone’s hanging on you — like I was okay. So it was hard for me to get stopped when it wasn’t — it was a premature stoppage 100%. I don’t believe I lost that fight, I believe Keith Peterson took that fight. Now I say that, in the midst of somebody who always takes responsibility for their losses. I lost to Cody Garbrandt. I think I probably won two out of five of those rounds against Cody, but he won three out of five, so I would say he won that fight. And I take responsibility for losing that fight (against Garbrandt). This fight (against Cejudo) was different — that’s what was tough about it.

Cruz also explained how whilst he respects the athletic commission’s decision no matter what the outcome may be, he plans to request that Peterson doesn’t officiate his March 6 outing against Kenney.

I’m gonna definitely request — and I can only hope and pray that the commission honours my request to not have him (Keith Peterson) in my corner — or refereeing my fight,” Cruz told. “I can’t guarantee it, the commission does whatever they want and I respect them and their decisions, but I don’t believe he’s a competent ref with the way he treated my fight and the way he treated it before the fight happened.

The way that I saw him going through the rules in the back — I’ve never had a referee that I’ve had to say, ‘hold on, hold on, stop. Can you start all over again? I can’t understand anything you’re saying. And you’re not looking me in the eyes, are you here? Are you present?’ And I don’t know if he was nervous, or if he had something going on — but I never dealt with that. I’ve had twenty fights, twenty-five fights close to.

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