The main event of UFC 132 sees Dominick Cruz defend his UFC Bantamweight championship against Urijah Faber. There are a lot of storylines going into this fight, as Cruz looks to avenge his only loss, while Faber looks for both personal redemption and perhaps to avenge Cruz's two victories over Faber's teammate Joseph Benavidez. As we saw in those Cruz vs. Benavidez fights (particularly the rematch), this one is likely to go all over the Octagon, utilizing every aspect of MMA, from takedowns, to clinch work, to submissions. But for me what really makes this fight stand out is the striking battle, and in particular, the striking techniques used by Cruz. He's touted as one of the most unique strikers in the game right now, but is that label valid? Let's take a close look at the champion's stand-up game and see what we can figure out.
Cruz's stand-up style has so far stymied every opponent he has faced at 135. Watching Dominick Cruz fight, you see a striking philosophy in some ways similar to that of Lyoto Machida - to land strikes as much as possible, while getting hit as little as possible. It sounds like an obvious strategy, but not many fighters base their game on this philosophy to the degree we see with Cruz.
This emphasis on evasion begins with Cruz's footwork. The moment a Dominick Cruz fight begins, you can't help but notice the motion he uses. Cruz is very light on his feet, constantly moving in and out of his opponent's range. He maximizes the efficiency of this motion by using a lot of angles. When Cruz moves in and out, he typically does so by moving off to the side, usually at a diagonal, either away from or towards his opponent. Often, when an opponent moves in, Cruz will land a quick counter right as he rotates off to the side to avoid the incoming attack. Here you see that footwork in use against Scott Jorgensen.
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Many fighters evade by moving straight back instead of to the side, but this can lead to you getting trapped against the cage and caught. For a perfect example, look at the Brett Rogers vs. Andrei Arlovski KO. Arlovski moves straight back as Rogers charges forward, and once the cage gets in the way, Rogers connects. Cruz moves to the side, avoiding the trap of the cage.
This diagonal movement also serves him well offensively. By coming in at angles, Cruz is often able to get his punches past an opponent's defense, as well as get out of the way of any counter shot coming back. One of his best strikes is a right hand that he throws while essentially moving past his opponent on a diagonal. This is a great technique as Cruz is bringing his momentum forward, which increases the punch's power, but also moving his body off to the side, avoiding his opponent's counter.
Because of this reliance on angles and movement, Cruz's most common punch is a hook, which he throws from both the right and left. The arc of the hook allows it to more easily connect on an opponent who is not directly in from of you. The same is true of kicks, which Cruz throws while moving off to the side. Here you can see those hooks and kicks against Brian Bowles. Against Benavidez, the WEC announce team was calling for Cruz to jab more in order to utilize his reach, but the straight jab is a punch that is most effective when you are right in front of your opponent. Since Cruz doesn't like to remain in that position, the straight punch is not a big part of his arsenal.
A few final small points about his footwork: Cruz is very fast on his feet, which allows him to suddenly close the distance and get into an opponent's striking range. He does this while maintaining proper foot positioning, so that when he comes in, he is still in perfect position to either strike, or move back out. He also uses footwork to keep himself in the center of the cage, moving to the side to try and push his opponent out of the center and towards the cage.
In addition to his footwork and his angles, you also see Cruz use extensive movement in his headwork. He moves his body, head, and shoulders more like a boxer, constantly ducking punches, and moving his head to the right or left away from an opponent's power. This again allows him to connect with his own shots, then immediately duck and avoid any possible counter. Here we see some nice headwork, mixed in with offense.
With his combination of off-angle offense, and evasive defensive movement, Cruz has implemented a very tricky striking style. But there definitely are patterns to his movements, and those patterns were recently identified by Urijah Faber.
Cruz's biggest pattern is his reliance on those hooks. He frequently throws them while moving forward and driving his opponent back. But throwing hooks from both sides tends to leave your head exposed, which could provide an opening for Faber to land. Again, see that combo against Bowles and watch how Cruz's hands do not protect his head as he charges with the hooks. He also tends to end his combos with a kick, which again, can leave an opening for an opponent to capitalize on. These predictable tendencies are a danger, as whenever a striker sticks to a consistent pattern, it opens the door for a technical, well scouted opponent to find his way through those patterns.
In addition to this degree of predictability, Cruz's other weakness is his power. Because he is so light on his feet and constantly moving, his punches are not thrown with his whole body behind them, and have not yet earned him a true stoppage victory at Bantamweight.
For Faber to get past Cruz's stand-up, he'll need to be on the absolute top of his striking game. The challenger will need a much greater degree of accuracy in his punches, as well as an increased focus on using his hands to defend his head. And of course, he'll need to limit those wild strikes that led to his downfall against Mike Brown. He seems to have Cruz well scouted - if he can use that knowledge to get past the striking, drive Cruz into the cage, and use a combination of elbows, takedowns, and clinchwork, he could pull off an upset. But if he plans to use that knowledge to simply outstrike Cruz, he may find the champion is just too technically superior.
Overall, I give the standing advantage to Cruz, and I think it will be enough to bring him the win.