Who wins the T.J. Dillashaw vs. Dominick Cruz main event at UFC Fight Night 81, and how?
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
It’s shocking to put into perspective how little Dominick Cruz has fought over the past few years. Besieged by injury, “The Dominator” last stepped into the Octagon about 16 months ago. That 61 seconds he spent in the cage was the sum total of time he’s spent fighting in 51 months. That’s over four years of real time, and about a minute of professional fighting time. As Shawn Ennis put it into perspective on our recent Podcast, Cruz missed the entire Renan Barao era while he was on the shelf. Let’s give the guy some credit, though, the man who never lost his title to anyone looked as good as ever when he trucked Takeya Mizugaki back in September of 2014.
T.J. Dillashaw exploded into our collective consciousness when he beat Renan Barão in one of the biggest upsets in UFC title fight history. Had Cruz not been injured at the time, Dillashaw probably wouldn’t have even gotten the fight against Barão. But he did, and as a result of that win and successive knockout victories, currently sits at #4 in the UFC’s Pound for Pound rankings. Dillashaw brings rare power and knockout ability to the bantamweight class. His 75% finishing rate features six knockouts in his twelve victories, including TKO/KO victories in five of his last six wins. His footwork, head movement, and accuracy are among the best in the sport, and he combines it with a measured aggression to make hard contact with his opponent. His performance against Barão was one for the ages, yet he somehow followed it up in the rematch with an ever better one. Not being an exceptionally large bantamweight hasn’t hurt him a bit in the power department, and adds a speed element that makes his skillset all the more deadly.
Cruz is another fast and highly technical fighter. Where Dillashaw uses his speed and ability to batter his opposition with strikes, Cruz uses his to make his opponents miss. Cruz’s run at 135 pounds featured a mastery of him not being where his opponents were aiming for, and successfully counter-striking his way to victory. Cruz’s ability to pick his spots and render his adversary’s offense moot allowed him to easily defeat the majority of his opponents before injuries caused him to be stripped of his title.
The beauty of this match up lies in pitting two seemingly unbeatable competitors against each other. Neither of them show signs of fading in fights, as both have cardio for days. Many have drawn a comparison between the two’s fighting styles, due to their striking and the nearly flawless technical side they bring to the fight. While maybe similar in skills, there’s a stark difference in mentality between them. Dillashaw is much more aggressive, channeling his proficiency into power. Cruz plays the waiting game, seeking to frustrate his opponents into over-committing and throwing them off their game.
The scary part of Dillashaw is that we don’t know what his ceiling is yet. He made one of the best fighters in the world look horribly over matched when he beat Barão, and he looked even better in the following fights. At the height of Cruz’s run, he did beat Urijah Faber in a rematch, but it was a much closer fight than many realize, with Faber managing to tag Cruz with some pretty hard shots. Cruz has said that Dillashaw has never faced anyone with his defense, speed, and footwork, but the reverse of that is also true. Cruz is still near his athletic prime at only 30 years of age despite all the time he missed, but he’s facing a much better opponent in the current champ than he had to fight during his championship run. Many of Cruz’s previous foes were actually flyweights forced to fight at 135 pounds because of the lack of a flyweight division at the time. The question of Dillashaw’s offense vs. Cruz’s defense is answered when Dillashaw puts Cruz down in the fourth round. This prediction isn’t based on any perceived ring rust Cruz may have. Dillashaw is just that good, and even the Dominator at his best isn’t going to be able to take him down.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
I think Dillashaw will be too much for Cruz. I can’t expect Cruz, after all the injuries he’s had and all the time he’s been out of action, to be able to step into the cage and be ready for a guy the caliber of Dillashaw. The speed, the footwork, all that stuff is beyond what Cruz could be expected to be ready for. It feels like Cruz hasn’t fought in a decade, there’s no way you can think he’s ready for a high-level fighter. Now, maybe he is, but if so, that’s one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in MMA. I think Dillashaw peppers Cruz with shot after shot and finally puts him away in about the third round. I don’t think Cruz will have the cardio to hang with Dillashaw, and that colors the fight. If Cruz is able to pull this off, that would be absolutely incredible. It’d be like something out of a movie. I don’t think he gets his Hollywood ending, though. If Cruz is able to get a few more fights under his belt, I’ll have a much different opinion of his chances against Dillashaw, but as it stands now, I can’t see Cruz winning.
BRAD WALKER MMATORCH COLUMNIST
I try not to let the talking sway my choices, because I know in most cases that the mind games don’t work (See: Chael Sonnen). I also believe that Dominick Cruz is the best bantamweight on the planet when he’s at 100%. If he’s in top shape he’s going to crush Dillashaw, if he comes in anything less then it’s all in the gaps who could win. I’m hoping for health and I’m going to take Cruz via KO in round three.
DAYNE FOX, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
I hate trying to predict this fight which is exactly why I’m anticipating it so much: I have no clue what is going to happen. Many view Dillashaw as Cruz 2.0, and it is easy to see the comparisons with both heavily emphasizing unorthodox footwork, with the improvement on Cruz being Dillashaw’s power. That, combined with Cruz’s injury history, should make this an easy fight to predict, but that is hardly the case. Cruz is one of the smartest fighters in the world, easily seen in his fight analysis when he works behind the desk, and he has also been playing mind games with the champ. The question is whether or not he has gotten into the champ’s head. If he has (and of course if Cruz’s body holds up), he could very well end up reclaiming the belt he never lost.
I would feel more comfortable picking Cruz if I had more than 61 seconds of fight time over the last four plus years. Sure, those 61 seconds were phenomenal, but that is such a short window of time. I’ve got to pick the champ to retain his belt. Cruz struggled with Mighty Mouse’s striking in his last fight before the injury bug struck and Dillashaw poses greater problems. Cruz was able to beat Johnson thanks to his wrestling and size advantage, but those won’t be present for him against Dillashaw. Should be a hell of a fight that I fully expect to go the distance with Dillashaw taking a unanimous decision.
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