Article by Steven Marrocco
Members of Team Cruz on "The Ultimate Fighter: Live" heard the bad news about their coach around the same time the rest of the world found out earlier this week.
After nine weeks on set, the UFC bantamweight champ sustained a torn ACL in training that ruled out his further participation on the reality show, as well as a season-ending fight with opposing coach Urijah Faber at UFC 148.
Speculation about Cruz's replacement and the show's coaching setup has since run wild, but Team Cruz members Justin Lawrence and James Vick say they don't want anything to change on set.
"There's no way we want anybody else but him," Vick today told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com) during a teleconference in support of the show's quarterfinal matchups, which kick off Friday on the show's 10th episode. "He's been here for 10 weeks now, and he's a great coach (with) a great coaching staff.
"We're getting very close to him, like family almost, and there's no way I would want anybody else but him."
Family was a term used by both Lawrence and Vick to describe the relationship between the Team Cruz coaches and fighters. Lawrence said support coach Eric DelFierro, who coaches Cruz at San Diego's Alliance MMA, and Wilson Reis are key members of the team, as is trainer Lloyd Irvin.
Lawrence said his team hasn't been informed of what, if anything, the UFC plans to do with the coaching staff now that Cruz is injured.
"But I'd say they're going to have eight guys that are going to be upset if they try to change our coach," he said. "It's already been nine weeks. Like James said, we made a bond with the coaching staff already."
At the start of the teleconference, a UFC representative deferred questions about the promotion's plans to a later date. What's clear to all, though, is that Cruz likely faces a long road back to health.
"I've also gone through two surgeries, and it's no joke," Lawrence said. "It's the most depressing time of your life."
Despite a shortened time on the mats with Cruz, Lawrence said he is grateful to have learned the champion's training methods, even if they sometimes ran the team ragged.
"We'd come home after practice sometimes, and we were instantly crashed out, and when the next training session came around, we were like, 'Already?'" he said. "It just really shows me what a world champion trains like, and how intense a training camp should be."