- Associated Press - Friday, June 3, 2016

INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) - Dominick Cruz belittled Urijah Faber’s height, criticized his looks and denigrated his fighting abilities. Cruz brought up everything from “Napoleon Dynamite” to a Tyrannosaurus rex’s arms to make fun of Faber, who called Cruz “skinny-fat” and threw in a reference to “Wedding Crashers.”

A few minutes later in the UFC’s promotional parade, Michael Bisping profanely criticized Luke Rockhold’s decision to fight him, using anatomical allusions and references to long-ago sparring sessions. That prompted Rockhold to vow he’ll get a first-round knockout, using terms that were somehow even more profane.

Professional fighting has many forms, and the four men in the two title fights at UFC 199 are proficient in all of them.

UFC 199 is personal for both bantamweight champion Cruz (21-1) and middleweight champion Rockhold (15-2), who are both making their first UFC title defenses against veteran opponents they have already beaten. They want to embarrass Faber (33-8) and Bisping (29-7) in the rematches Saturday night, likely setting up fight fans for some memorable moments at the Forum.

“We’ve been wanting to punch each other in the face for a long time,” Faber said.

Four California fighters are the headliners in the first UFC show at the historic, renovated arena south of downtown Los Angeles. The card also includes top featherweights Max Holloway and Ricardo Lamas shortly after veteran middleweights Dan Henderson and Hector Lombard.

But the double bill of title fights is the main attraction, and all four big names have done a spectacular job raising interest in these rematches.

It doesn’t hurt that several strange bits of symmetry exist between the title fights.

Cruz and Rockhold claimed their championships after long grinds to the top, and they’re not eager to give them away yet. They’ve both got ample motivation to beat Faber and Bisping, two durable 37-year-old veterans who have done just about everything in their UFC careers outside of winning title belts.

Faber’s feud with Cruz dates back nearly a decade. As Faber tells it, Cruz signed his name over Faber’s face on a few promotional posters that were intended for charity giveaways, and the faux pas festered into a career-long rivalry.

“He just had a smug, arrogant style right from the start, and I just didn’t like him,” Cruz said. “And he probably felt the same about me, and it just never really stopped from there.”

Cruz lost to Faber in their first meeting in 2007 in the defunct WEC promotion, but he hasn’t lost a fight since, becoming the UFC’s first bantamweight champion. Although injuries sidelined Cruz for much of his ostensible prime, he recovered and reclaimed the UFC 135-pound belt early this year by beating T.J. Dillashaw for his 11th straight victory.

Faber has had five title fights in the past eight years, but has lost them all. He dropped a clear decision to Cruz in their rematch in 2011, but a steady stream of victories has kept him in contention for each of his failed title shots.

“I think this is the one that I’ve been waiting to get,” Faber said. “This is the opportunity that I wanted against this guy.”

Bisping is the short-notice replacement for former champion Chris Weidman, who dropped out two weeks ago with a potentially serious neck injury. Weidman lost his belt in decisive fashion late last year to Rockhold, the versatile, hard-nosed former Strikeforce champion from Santa Cruz.

Weidman’s absence allowed Bisping to fight for a UFC title after 10 years and 25 bouts in the promotion. Rockhold is a strong favorite, but Bisping believes his loss to Rockhold 19 months ago in Sydney taught him enough to win the rematch.

“My entire life has been building to this moment,” said Bisping, who beat longtime champion Anderson Silva in February.

Rockhold and Bisping both grudgingly acknowledge they have a bit more mutual respect than Cruz and Faber, although it’s hidden under layers of profanity, denigration and posturing.

“This will not be his fairy tale,” Rockhold said. “This will be his swan song. This will be the end of him. I’m going to go out there and I’m going to dominate this guy like he’s never been before.”


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