UFC Boston is a wrap, and Dominick Cruz has regained the bantamweight belt that he never lost in the cage. He took a split decision win over T.J. Dillashaw in a quality, back-and-forth bout which saw Cruz erase any doubt over how he would look after just 61 seconds worth of fighting since October 2011. I personally had the fight for Dillashaw (you all can rip me apart for having it 49-46 Dillashaw in the comments section), but can easily see an argument for Cruz getting the win. Rounds 4 and 5 were pretty clear-cut in Dillashaw's favor to me, while rounds 1 and 3 were close. Round 2 was definitely Cruz's. I'll need a rewatch with the sound off.
Whatever you think of the decision, Dominick Cruz's career looked to be in serious jeopardy with the multiple knee surgeries he dealt with. Even when he beat Takeya Mizugaki, he suffered another knee injury and came into this fight on a 16 month layoff. Would his footwork look the same as it did in years past? Would his striking defense still look sharp? Would he be able to frustrate Dillashaw with his movement? The answer is "yes" to all 3. And that's amazing. This is one of the greatest achievements combat sports has ever seen. His last five-round fight was almost five years ago and he came into TD Garden and beat the champion. That's mind-blowing.
I'm sure Dillashaw is gutted that he didn't get the nod, and I think he's still actually the guy with the best shot at beating Cruz, but tonight is all about how Cruz was able to defy the odds and become champion again. Congratulations to him.
More thoughts on tonight's card:
- Cruz said in the post-fight interview, "Kenny Florian, stop copying-and-pasting!" and that's a perfect burn if you understand what happened to Florian the other day.
- Neither Faber nor Barao has a hope in hell of beating either Dillashaw or Cruz. Come at me, bros.
- On a personal level, I needed good fights to carry me through a day in which the Seattle Seahawks got blown out of the NFL playoffs (before crawling back to just lose in mildly heartbreaking fashion). For the most part, the preliminary card was awesome but the main card was largely "meh" up until the main event, which definitely delivered.
- Eddie Alvarez sacrificed being wildly entertaining for "ugly" wins against high-level UFC competition. I don't think he outstruck Anthony Pettis, but he did enough not to get dominated on the feet. He also went out of his way to take Pettis down repeatedly and not give him any space to work his dangerous striking game, similar to what Rafael dos Anjos achieved, except Alvarez didn't hold Pettis down and bust him up on the ground. I am pretty sure his takedowns (he landed 6) got him the split decision win.
- I'll probably write more on this, but this fight was the absolute worst case scenario for Pettis. Nothing he showed out of this fight suggests he wins a rematch with Rafael dos Anjos, and nothing about his performance is indicative of another title run out of him. He's quietly 5-3 in the UFC.
- Alvarez vs. Pettis should've been 5 rounds, no matter how disjointed that fight ended up being.
- Travis Browne should've been deducted a point (or more) for the eye pokes on Matt Mitrione, which had a significant impact on the fight. Mitrione's right eye looked grotesque and I wouldn't mind never seeing that again. Browne was going to win a decision anyway, but there's no doubt Browne should've been punished for his clearly illegal strikes.
- ...Just a random thought, what are the odds that Ronda Rousey will receive even more hatred because of Browne's performance tonight? Because within the context of cagefighting, that's as thoroughly disliked as Browne has ever been, and it's the first fight he's had since their personal relationship was revealed.
- Matt Mitrione is going to enter free agency on a loss, and a rough one at that. I think he's more than good enough to beat most Bellator heavyweights, and I wouldn't mind seeing him there if he doesn't stick around in the UFC.
- I thought Francisco Trinaldo would beat Ross Pearson by grinding out a win, then changed my pick to Pearson winning by outstriking Trinaldo. Turns out that Trinaldo outstruck Pearson, and picked up another win The 37-year-old has evolved into a well-rounded gatekeeper in the lightweight division, and Pearson just couldn't initiate enough offense on his own to win.
- FS1 shows are always paced terribly and I've resigned myself to it never getting any better. I'm now entirely for an increase of Fight Pass cards, because these Fight Nights are a total slog to get through even when the fights are entertaining.
- Patrick Cote just wrecked Ben Saunders and it wasn't even close. I didn't expect Cote to completely destroy Saunders in the clinch, and that's what led to the knockout. Mind you, another thing of note was Cote's ground game, which led to a nice armbar sweep to get on top of Saunders and bust him up to end round 1. Cote's career rejuvenation is something I've been skeptical of, but his wins over Burkman and Saunders have been superb, and he deserves a top 15 fighter.
- Ed Herman's 205 debut ended in a picture-perfect knee KO of Tim Boetsch, whose career has quietly gone off the rails a bit. He's 3-6 in his last 9, and two of those wins were contestable decisions over C.B. Dollaway and Hector Lombard. No doubt he's faced very formidable, top 10 competition during that time span, but for a man lauded for his incredible toughness and iron chin, he's been straight-up starched in back-to-back fights by guys who have been on a downward trajectory.
- The only short-notice replacement who wasn't even remotely competitive was Mehdi Baghdad, who Chris Wade schooled on the mat until he tapped him out with a rear-naked choke. Wade has won 6 in a row and it's his 3rd submission win by rear-naked choke. Long Island is Strong Island and all of that jazz....
- Luke Sanders got out of a dangerous arm-triangle against Maximo Blanco and turned the tables dramatically. A sharp left hand dropped Blanco and Sanders capitalized with a rear-naked choke. The MMA Lab prospect was a late replacement for the injured Dennis Bermudez (who fights like a basically a more consistent, slightly less wild Maximo Blanco), and he got a huge win under his belt. Consider that Sanders is a career 135er and he took out a quality featherweight. I look forward to seeing him at his normal weight class.
- Daron Cruickshank turned in one of his best performances for a long long time, and I thought he was up two rounds vs. Paul Felder. It didn't matter, because Felder would've won a split decision anyway, but he finished the fight to make sure he wouldn't have to sweat that out. "The Irish Dragon" turned to wrestling and grappling and pulled off a lovely rear-naked choke towards the final minute of the 3rd. Cruickshank was winning the striking battles, but I absolutely didn't understand his insistence on going for takedowns, and in round 3 he was dominated on the ground leading up to the finish. Hopefully the UFC doesn't cut Cruickshank, because he performed pretty well against a superior opponent with higher upside.
- Ilir Latifi defended his UFC light heavyweight title with a 30 second KO of Sean O'Connell, who complained about the stoppage after he was blasted with a pair of right hands. At first I thought he had a case, but the 2nd right hand Latifi landed as O'Connell was falling pretty much tipped the scales against letting that fight go on much longer. Besides, what kind of crazy man would want MORE punishment from the illest of Ilirs?
- Cormier vs. Jones 2 is a #1 contender matchup to fight the real champion. Don't even double-check my facts on this. It's true.
- Charles Rosa was supposed to fight Jim Hettes, then Augusto Mendes, and ended up with Kyle Bochniak on less than a week's notice. Bochniak gave Rosa problems with his striking, knocking him down in the 1st round, but Rosa slowly took over in the later rounds (especially messing up Kyle's lead leg) to get a decision win that's the very definition of "just get the victory and move on." Those super super short notice bouts can be tricky, and Bochniak has definitely earned himself another fight inside the Octagon.
- Rob Font entered the UFC in spectacular fashion by KOing George Roop, but then he disappeared for awhile due to injury. He re-emerged in impressive fashion tonight by picking apart Joey Gomez en route to a 2nd round TKO finish. Font mixed up his offense very well, showed off all facets of his striking, and showed great killer instinct when Gomez was hurt. Joey made a good account of himself on short notice, but Font has real potential to be a top 10 guy if he stays healthy.
- I'd be lying if I told you I could remember anything interesting out of Francimar Barroso vs. Elvis Mutapcic. Elvis lost his mouthpiece three times, so there's that. He belongs at 185. Barroso might be the least watchable fighter in the UFC.