Mixed Martial Arts is a complex sport that includes many different aspects. Here, I'm taking a look at a key upcoming fight and breaking down just one of those aspects - the stand-up.
Strengths - Movement. Plain and simple. Dominick Cruz is an absolute master of movement in every aspect of his game. In particular, he uses footwork, body, and head movement to seamlessly flow between offense and defense when striking. Cruz's striking style is based around using his fast feet to quickly move inside an opponent's range. He then lands strikes, typically in a combo. Cruz's wide arsenal of strikes includes punches, kicks, and knees all delivered from either an orthodox or south paw stance. He uses his body well to get behind his shots and to chain them together nicely. After landing his own shots, Cruz uses head and body movement to slip any counter strikes, then once he sees an opening, either lands another combo, or uses his feet again to escape. Then he starts the sequence over again. In short, he gets in, does damage, takes none, and gets out. And that is almost exclusively due to his superior movement.
One other way he uses movement to his great advantage is in his use of angles. One of the best ways to avoid being hit and maximize your own strikes is to strike your opponent while you are on an angle. Your body faces your opponent (maximizing your power), but theirs is turned slightly away from you (minimizing their power). Cruz does a very good job at landing while on angles. In particular, he has a great hook he hits while running diagonally past his opponent, making it very hard to counter.
Weaknesses - Honestly, Cruz has one of the best stand-up games in the sport today, so it's hard to really call anything a weakness. If there's an area where he leaves an opening though it's in his style of defense. Cruz defends punches by slipping them - meaning he lowers his head and body and slides his head off to the side to avoid any incoming punches. It's a style of defense seen more in boxing than MMA, although Anderson Silva has been using it a lot lately. Because he defends with this head movement, Cruz keeps his hands low and does not use them to defend his chin and head at all. Normally, keeping the hands so low is a huge negative, but Cruz is so adept at his head movement that no one has yet been able to find that chin and exploit that defensive hole. But that doesn't mean it's not there.
Analysis of Johnson and the head to head comparison in the full article.
Strengths - Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson has a great all around game, and as a result his striking is sometimes a bit overlooked. But he has very good skills on the feet. His greatest asset is definitely his speed - Johnson may be the fastest fighter in the history of the UFC. That speed is most pronounced in his movement around the cage, but you also see it in his hand speed and ability to quickly put together combinations.
In addition to this speed, Johnson also has strengths in his game that extend beyond the basic fundamentals. Like Cruz, he uses angles well, and is comfortable in either stance and will switch between stances often. He also throws very nice hooks that are crisp and tight. It's a very different approach to hooks from Cruz, who throws them more looping on the outside.
Weaknesses - That speed is a huge plus, but it also means that Johnson often gives up power, preferring to connect quickly instead of with maximum force. While he connects often, the times he has staggered an opponent with his strikes are few indeed. One area where you really see this is his kicks. He throws kicks very quickly, but he doesn't rotate the hips much. That gets the kick off faster at times, but it doesn't allow him to get his body behind the kick and really maximize its power.
HEAD TO HEAD
In addition to his excellent stand-up, Dominick Cruz also has a very good wrestling and submission game that is built around keeping himself out of trouble and keeping the fight standing when he wants it there. Because of this, I think the man to beat Cruz will need to beat him on his feet, taking advantage of that defensive style to find Cruz's chin and connect with some powerful punches. And unfortunately for Johnson, he's just not that kind of fighter. The big plus Johnson has in his corner is that speed - Cruz is used to being the faster fighter, and he'll be at a speed disadvantage here. But Johnson's speed is more in his movement than his reflexes (as we saw in the Brad Pickett fight when Pickett repeatedly caught Johnson's kicks). I suspect Cruz will make the needed adjustments and be able to connect on Johnson.
It comes down to this: if Johnson hangs back, Cruz will push in and outstrike him. If Johnson comes forward, Cruz will use his counter-striking to hit 3 or 4 strikes on Johnson every time Mighty Mouse misses. And Dominick Cruz is an expert at making people miss.
ADVANTAGE: DOMINICK CRUZ