TORONTO -- UFC president Dana White says Dominick Cruz needs to be able to return to the cage by early 2014 if he wants to retain his bantamweight title.
Cruz (19-1) has not fought since October 2011, sidelined by two knee surgeries.
"If he can't fight at the beginning of the year, we've got to pull the trigger," White said Thursday when asked about Cruz's title and the fighter's inactivity. "It's been two years.
"A lot of people think we're crazy for holding up the title this long. But it's a tough thing to do, to take a title away from somebody. It's hard to do."
The UFC has introduced an interim 135-pound title in Cruz's absence, a belt that Brazil's Renan Barao will defend Saturday for the second time. Barao (32-1 with one no contest) is slated to meet Eddie Wineland (20-8-1) in the co-main event of UFC 165 Saturday.
The knee injury kept Cruz off the UFC 148 card in July 2012, costing him a lucrative piece of the pay-per-view. Cruz was supposed to meet Urijah (The California Kid) Faber in a meeting of rival coaches from "The Ultimate Fighter."
"That kid lost his lottery ticket," White said. "These things happen. Bad things happen like this. It's part of the sport. There's nothing you can do about it."
Should the 28-year-old Cruz lose his title through inactivity, White said the interim champ would take over.
"I think we do need to set a standard if somebody can't (fight)," he said.