Cruz (22-2), considered the greatest 135-pound fighter in MMA history, will complete a one-year layoff when he faces top contender Jimmie Rivera (21-1), who is unbeaten in UFC and rides an incredible 20-fight win streak.
The 32-year-old Cruz will look to bounce back from a clear decision loss to Cody Garbrandt at UFC 207 last December. The defeat was his first in 13 bouts dating back to a submission loss to Urijah Faber at WEC 26 in 2007.
After fighting just once between 2012 and 2015 because of a devastating string of major injuries, Cruz made three appearances in 2016 and briefly regained his former title by outpointing TJ Dillashaw by split decision.
Rivera, 28, is 5-0 with UFC and fresh off a pair of impressive decision wins over Faber and Thomas Almeida.
The fight has the potential to be a real crossroads’ affair as Cruz looks to bounce back and preserve his status as a pound-for-pound elite against the upstart Rivera. A victory could put the winner on the verge of a title shot against the winner of Cruz-Dillashaw on Nov. 4 at UFC 217 in New York.
UFC 219, which takes place New Year’s weekend in Las Vegas, is expected to be among the promotion’s biggest events of the year. Although a main event has yet to be announced, UFC also added a quality women’s strawweight bout to the card between Cynthia Calvillo and former champion Carla Esparza. Flyweight Louis Smolka will also meet Matheus Pereira.