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Dominick Cruz to return in early 2014?

AVONDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 11: Ultimate Fighting Championship

AVONDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 11: Ultimate Fighting Championship Bantamweight fighter and honorary pace car driver Dominick Cruz poses on the grid next to the pace car prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 11, 2012 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR) Credit: Getty Jerry Markland

UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz hasn't fought in 710 days. In that time, Renan Barao won the interim bantamweight title once, defended it once and had a second defense canceled once.

Barao is now just 11 days away from his second defense -- at UFC 165 in Toronto against Eddie Wineland.

On Tuesday's UFC 165 conference call, UFC president Dana White said Cruz is expected to return at the beginning of 2014 to unify the titles at 135 pounds.

"He was very confident that he would be ready to go at the beginning of the year," White said.

White said he, Cruz and UFC chairman Lorenzo Fertitta met in Las Vegas a few weeks ago for lunch to discuss his rehab from a second knee surgery.

But should Cruz suffer another setback, be it long-term or short-term, then the UFC will have to reconsider the "interim" attached to Barao's title.

"If he's not ready to go at the beginning of the year, then we'll have to make a decision," White said.

"No disrespect to Dominick," Barao said through a translator. "From the moment I won this belt and have defended it once, I have considered myself the champion."

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