UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz ignored the pain, clenched his right hand, and fought for 25 minutes Saturday night. The result: his fourth consecutive title defense and a badly damaged hand that requires surgery.
In the opening round of a unanimous decision against Demetrious Johnson in Washington, D.C., Cruz (19-1) dislocated his middle finger at the knuckle and tore ligaments and tendons, the UFC champion told ESPN.com.
"It just hurt and felt off," Cruz said. "My finger kept popping out of the socket."
Cruz has dealt with major hand injuries before. He was forced out of action for nearly six months with a similar malady to his left hand before returning in July to best his rival Urijah Faber.
"It's basically the exact same injury I had on my left hand," Cruz said. "Same knuckle, same everything. The tendon is completely ripped off the bone and my finger is popping out of its socket due to that. And the knuckle just dislocates when I make a fist. I have to get that tendon that ripped reattached with surgery."
Yet the 25-year-old, ranked No. 6 on ESPN.com's pound-for-pound list, does not fear hand ailments will derail his career.
"After I got the surgery on my left hand the doctor said it would be stronger. And it's true. It is stronger," Cruz said. "He put an extra piece of tendon over the top of the knuckle so it's braced for impact.
"He did some voodoo stuff with it that he drilled a hole through the knuckle and tied it so tight that there's no way for that tendon to lift back up off the bone again. I really feel like it's stronger than it was in the first place and I won't have any issues with it anymore."
Cruz intends to use the same orthopedic surgeon based out of Chicago who repaired his left hand. Cruz, who remained back East to visit family and friends, won't see the orthopedist until he attends the UFC Fan Expo this weekend in Houston.
During the contest with Johnson, Cruz's San Diego-based corner wasn't aware its fighter was injured. Afterward, Cruz told his trainer Eric Del Fierro that he "could still make a fist" so he ignored the pain and didn't say anything.
"I'm kind of weird where I feel if I don't say anything about it it's almost like it's not an issue. I mean, no matter what, am I going to quit fighting because my hand is busted?" Cruz said.
"That's not an option. You have to figure out a different way to fight and win, unless it's so bad that you just can't take it. But it wasn't so I didn't feel the need to talk about it."
Josh Gross covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoshGrossESPN