Why Dominick Cruz Will Remain Bantamweight Champion
This weekend the UFC will have its first card headlined by a Bantamweight fight. Not surprisingly, one of the participants in the main event is former WEC poster boy, and the most recognizable sub-155 fighter in the world, Urijah Faber. However, as good a champion as Faber would make both in- and outside of the cage, I don’t expect him to walk out of the octagon victorious Saturday night.
Faber has had a great career, including a win over Cruz in the midst of his 13-fight streak, and he still has much left to offer the Bantamweight division. However, despite that previous victory over Cruz, I’m not convinced Faber has much to offer the champion in this bout.
Dominick Cruz has evolved so much since that 2007 loss, now sporting an 8-fight winning streak of his own. When I rewatch their first fight, I see a version of Cruz that actually looks smaller (despite now being at a lower weight), utilizes less movement, and doesn’t have the crisp (albeit awkward) striking that we have seen out of the iteration that has become WEC champion.
Although the first fight only lasted a little over 90 seconds, Cruz was landing with regularity early, and showed off his wrestling (specifically the knee tap, which is his go-to takedown). He made a mistake by leaving his neck exposed against Faber, but those are the types of mistakes that 21 year-old fighters make, and in Cruz’s case, he has obviously learned from it.
After their first fight, Cruz took 15 months to get another shot in the WEC, this time at 135, and ran off four victories to earn a shot at then champion Brian Bowles. Cruz controlled the 10 minute bout with Bowles, and the Georgian was unable to continue after the second round due to a myriad of injuries. While it was probably not how Cruz envisioned winning the title, his next two bouts (against Joseph Benavidez and Scott Jorgensen) have been by far his best performances, solidifying him as the champion and setting up the first of many bouts that will be called the “Biggest Fight in Bantamweight History”.
In the Jorgensen fight especially Cruz showed that he was on another level entirely, cracking Jorgensen at will with hard combinations and disappearing at angles before his opponent could fire back with any sort of offense. He also took Jorgensen down repeatedly, and most impressively to me he really mixed his kicks into his combinations well. Looking at the trouble the leg kicks of Jose Aldo gave Faber, that is not something to be overlooked (although Cruz’s leg kicks aren’t nearly as powerful as Aldo’s).
While some have complained that Cruz has embraced a point-fighting style similar to someone like Frankie Edgar, I find that Cruz throws a great deal more in terms of power shots than the UFC Lightweight champion, he’s just been unfortunate to run up against a string of very tough opponents. Some of the shots that Cruz landed on Jorgensen would have easily felled a lesser fighter, but such was not the case in that bout.
Leading up to this bout, both sides have been making their dislike for one another known, but come fight time, I see Cruz keeping a level head in the cage. Faber I’m not so sure about. He throws caution to the wind rather often, and is known for his willingness to employ unorthodox methods in a fight. Doing so against Cruz would not be advisable, as his striking has developed to the point that he can make Faber pay when he leaves himself out of position.
In my mind, Faber’s best asset has and always will be his submission game. However, the issue that Cruz presents – assuming he doesn’t dive head long into another Guillotine – is that much like Mike Brown and Jose Aldo, Urijah will struggle to take the fight to the ground, and when it does go to the ground, Faber will likely be on his back courtesy of a Cruz knee tap, where he is much less successful. While Dominick’s propensity to lead with his head at times is something that is still worrisome, I don’t feel as though Urijah has the precision striking to be the guy who takes advantage of it.
I just think that while Faber remains a similar fighter to who he was in 2007, Cruz has made quantum leaps, and now presents a very difficult style matchup for Urijah, one which I don’t feel the “California Kid” can overcome. I expect Cruz to leave the cage Saturday night with the Bantamweight belt still strapped firmly around his waist, as he erases all the lingering questions from his sole professional defeat.