Saturday's WEC bantamweight title fight between Dominick Cruz and Brian Bowles was something a little unusual, a major MMA fight that was decided largely by footwork standing.
Dominick Cruz used a ton of feints and odd footwork to throw Brian Bowles completely off his counter-striking game.
Steve Cofield broke down the fight:
Dominick Cruz has a great head on his shoulders. He's a crafty guy who stuck to his game plan of movement and fakes. Apparently, his head is made of granite, too. When Brian Bowles could actually catch him, the former WEC bantamweight champ landed a few big shots. But it hurt him more than Cruz. On the doctor's advice, Bowles couldn't come out for the third round because of a badly injured right hand, giving the 24-year-old Cruz his first world title via TKO stoppage in the main at WEC 47 in Columbus, Ohio.
Cruz (15-1, 5-1 WEC) also made it difficult for Bowles to stay composed because of his dancing, bobbing and dodging. He was faking kicks, ducking his head into the strikezone and then out of it. Too often, Bowles found himself swinging at air and then getting blasted with counter right hands. By the end of the first round, Bowles was dropping his hands to reset and his nose was bloodied. It got worse in the second round. Cruz pushed forward and so did Bowles. It just meant Bowles got nailed more often. The defining moment of the fight came with three minutes left in the round, when Cruz charged forward with a five-punch barrage before dropping Bowles with a leg kick. It looked to have broken Bowles' spirit. He was too slow and was without his best weapon, his right hand.
Jonathan Snowden talked to Cruz about his style:
Jonathan Snowden: Can you explain your style a little bit to people who haven't seen you? It's almost like Bruce Lee on meth - you're darting around like no one else I've ever seen.
Dominick Cruz: I always wanted to have a style that would catch someone's eye. There's so many good fighters and you have to stand out some way. My outlook on this is that we're wearing four ounce gloves, and four ounce gloves aren't very forgiving. So my mindset is to get hit as little as possible.
Snowden: That seems pretty smart. For you, it's all about using your feet to stay one step ahead of your opponent.
Cruz: I thought if I don't get hit at all in a fight, how can I lose? I decided to make my feet as fast as I could and make my footwork ridiculous because Muhammad Ali always preached about it, so it's got to work.
Technically, Cruz' footwork is a far cry from Muhammad Ali, but it was more than good enough to beat Bowles. In the full entry Brent Brookhouse and Mike Fagan help me break down some gifs.
GIFs by Chris Nelson.
The first two gifs are very interesting to me.
In both it's clear that this is scouting coming into play. Bowles is looking to fire counterpunches when Cruz comes in with a punch or takedown attempt. So both times Cruz steps forward and right away is putting up his arms and backing away. Normally I wouldn't be a fan of his backing up but Bowles comes wide with his punches and Cruz counters the counter and gets right back out of harms way. The one negative is that it is very hard to generate much power, let alone knock someone out when backing up.
Also it's a problem for Bowles that he was letting Cruz initiate. If you're getting feinted and the guy is trying to fight you going backward you have to attempt to take away all space. That means space between you and him and space between him and the cage. Bowles was getting confused by the footwork and then trying to pinpoint exact seconds for counters when he should have been trying to cut the cage off and take away room for the footwork to be effective.
Mike Fagan had this to add:
I am considering writing a post about Cruz' footwork. Suffice to say, it's not very good. It reminded me a lot of Rashad Evans in a lot of ways, where he's getting by on his speed and athleticism than sound fundamentals.
Brent nails a couple of good points. Bowles came at Cruz multiple times with his head forward throwing wild hooks which is probably not the best thing to do if a guy's content to dance around you.
Watch this final exchange on the right. Note that it begins with Bowles catching a high kick and winging off a a counter left hook. Cruz knows to lean back and avoid the counter. Then he backs up with his arms up and catches Bowles with a retreating right hook of his own.
Cruz isn't likely to get many knock outs that way, but he clearly came into this fight with the right game plan and Brian Bowles had no idea how to adjust his game in response.