By the time New Year’s rolls around in his home state of Michigan, Daron Cruickshank will once again be a free agent. But if Rizin Fighting Federation plays their cards right, there’s a good chance that “The Detroit Superstar” sticks around.
Cruickshank (22-10) has called the Japanese promotion home since debuting at Rizin’s first event back in April 2016, though he’s continued to make the 14-plus hour commute from the United States for all eight of his appearances, rarely staying overseas past fight week. None of those eight fights have gone the distance, and it’s Cruickshank who has been the last man standing in six of them.
He completes the last fight on his current contract when he takes on fellow ex-UFC lightweight Damien Brown at Rizin 14 on Monday (the show begins at 1 a.m. in the morning back in Michigan) at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. A fifth consecutive win could give Cruickshank some major leverage in his upcoming negotiations, which he expects to conduct with a number of promotions.
“This is the last fight on my contract, but it’s not that I’m going to go to the UFC or going to go to Bellator or anything like that, I’m actually a pretty loyal person and Rizin’s taken care of me,” Cruickshank recently told MMA Fighting. “But it’s all about who’s going to pay me the most, who am I going to make the money with? That’s what it is for me.
“A lot of guys are like you’ve gotta fight in the UFC and you’ve gotta do this, but I had 13 fights in the UFC. I had a full career basically. A lot of guys to this day don’t have that many fights. Personally, I don’t have anything to prove. I know I’m an exciting fighter and for me it’s all about where I’ll make the most money at.”
Cruickshank went 6-6 (1 NC) competing in the Octagon and at his best was counted on to supply a surefire highlight on fight night. That reputation carried over to Japan where he’s only added to his collection of violent finishes, including KOs of Koshi Matsumoto and Ultimate Fighter 14 winner Diego Brandao.
Those two wins were part of a 3-0 year for Cruickshank and if he defeats Brown on New Year’s Eve, he’ll have had one of the most successful MMA campaigns of 2018. Asked if he felt fans — particularly those in North America who may not keep up with his exploits in Japan — are neglecting to include him among the sport’s most exciting fighters, Cruickshank answered that his results speak for themselves.
“I don’t think I’m overlooked,” Cruickshank said. “I left the UFC and I landed an awesome job with Rizin because I’m so entertaining. If I wasn’t fighting for Rizin, I’d be knocking people out wherever I’m at. You look at my UFC career, I had a bunch of sweet knockouts, I had losses too, but no matter what I always put on a good show and that’s why I still have a job today.”
That’s one reason why Cruickshank doesn’t feel that he has to necessarily return to a more established promotion. Aside from the difficulties of travel, Cruickshank had nothing but praise for his current situation with Rizin, especially the ruleset that allows him to be at his most creative (and destructive) when he steps into the ring.
“As far as communication and stuff like that, it’s pretty good,” Cruickshank said. “They’re really good with communication as far as e-mailing, letting you know what’s going on, that’s great.
“As far as fighting over there for Rizin, I actually really love the rules, being able to kick people on the ground and all that, I really like it. Other than that, they take care of me, they pay me well, and I’m real happy with being with them.”
Should Cruickshank extend his run with Rizin, he could find himself in the mix for a lightweight championship in the near future. The promotion only recently began introducing traditional titles (Rizin 14 will see an inaugural bantamweight champion crowned when Kyoji Horiguchi takes on Bellator bantamweight titleholder Darrion Caldwell) and the prospect of adding some hardware to his collection is an intriguing one for Cruickshank.
But first and foremost, he needs to get paid.
“There’s talk of a tournament for Rizin,” Cruickshank said. “Nothing’s set in stone yet, but there’s a little bit of talk about it at my weight class, so if that happens and — like I said, my contract is up after this fight — if all goes well and they offer me something substantial that I think that I’m worth, then I’ll go with Rizin. It’s real simple.”