In the main event of the evening at UFC on Versus 6 in Washington D.C. on Saturday, champion Dominick Cruz (18-1) will aim to defend the UFC bantamweight title for the second time as he battles challenger Demetrious Johnson (10-1). Technically, this is Cruz's fourth title defense since he won the strap back at WEC 47 in March of last year against Brian Bowles. He defended it twice under the UFC's sister promotion, narrowly edging out Joseph Benavidez by split decision at WEC 50 and dominating Scott Jorgensen at WEC 53 to an unanimous decision. The win over Jorgensen marked the official changeover of the belt to the UFC, Cruz being the first bantamweight champion in its history.
Cruz's first defense under the bright lights of the UFC came at UFC 132 in July. Over twenty-five minutes of action, Cruz defeated challenger Urijah Faber convincingly on the scorecards, although Faber did manage to make a real run at playing the role of spoiler. Surprisingly, Faber wasn't quick enough to solve Cruz's mesmerizing movement despite his status as one of the fastest featherweights on the planet. Shedding the ten pounds to make 135 lbs. created a faster version of Faber, but it still wasn't enough.
The victory was, by far, Cruz's best to date, but it didn't erase any of the criticism surrounding him. Since his return to the WEC back in June of 2008, the 26-year old has finished one fight in eight appearances. Many fans, including the hardcore crowd who understands the nuances of his style, use the statistic as evidence that Cruz is the "Jon Fitch of striking". His jerky movements, evasion tactics, and ranged attack have won him plenty of fights, but it has hurt his marketability despite his champion status.
A more determined Dominick Cruz may show up on Saturday night at the Verizon Center hoping to prove he can do more to help his image. Unfortunately, Demetrious Johnson may not be the type of fighter to try to back into a corner. The speedy 25-year-old only stands a 5'3" tall, but he's one of the fastest, if not the fastest, fighters in the entire sport. Despite the fact that he's an obvious natural flyweight, Johnson paved a path to the crown by defeating Miguel Torres, Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto, Damacio Page, and Nick Pace. An impressive run for any bantamweight. Even more impressive for a flyweight.
Johnson won't have the luxury of blowing by his opposition with blazing speed. This isn't the type of fight in which he can duck in and out of danger and win on the scorecards. Cruz is more experienced and stronger at that style of fighting. He's also possesses solid takedown defenses, good scrambling ability, and an endless gas tank. Sounds bleak, doesn't it?
There are opportunities for Johnson to succeed, but it involves high risk. Rangy fighters have historically responded to aggression poorly. There are obviously outliers to that statement, Cruz being one of them. It does, however, make sense. Put them in a situation in which they can't use their physical gifts to win, and things become much easier for you. Johnson must mimic what Joseph Benavidez was able to have success doing at WEC 50 last August, only faster.
Faster is something Johnson knows how to do very well. He'll need to turn up the tempo, explode from range, and catch Cruz while he attempts to evade or defend against the attacks. If he can do that consistently while ducking underneath to give off the perception he may try to take Cruz down, we could be crowning a new champion on Saturday night.
I don't see that happening however. Cruz is just too experienced and versatile to allow a fairly one-dimensional gameplan fell him. Cruz batters Johnson over the course of five rounds, putting together what I suppose we can a classic performance of movement and striking. Cruz via decision.