Cruz and Faber finish the trilogy we didn't ask for but are cool with accepting this June 4, 2016 at the The Forum in Inglewood, California.
Single sentence summary:
Phil: A fun demonstration of Dominick Cruz' talents against an opponent that he doesn't like very much.
David: All the animals except Cruz fear the T-Rex.
Record: Dominick Cruz 21-1 Urijah Faber 33-8
Odds: Dominick Cruz -430 Urijah Faber +380
History lesson / introduction to the fighters
Phil: Dominic Cruz is back, and it feels like he never left. Partially that's because he's fighting the same guy he did back in the WEC days, but also because he's miraculously come out from multi-year(!) lay-offs looking as good or better than he did in the past. The biggest change is that modern Cruz operates in an era of far higher hipster technical awareness, where there's more appreciation for things like effective defense. He also has some fan affection for the comeback story, which doesn't seem to be tempered by his characteristic prickly arrogance. Cruz is fun to have around.
David: The great thing about having Cruz back is watching him pick wings off the collective Alpha Male word fly. I still watch that Cruz vs. Dillashaw HBO rip off show as my own personal meditation. I haven't been paying attention to Cruz' Wittgensteinian approach to Faber because I haven't had much time lately, but the T-Rex arms bit looks promising.
"You're gonna be reaching for it with your T-rex arms." pic.twitter.com/RLijO4YsOR— caposa (@GrabakaHitman) June 2, 2016
Phil: Urijah Faber is one of the best fighters to never win a belt in the UFC. Of course, he held the WEC featherweight strap, which can be considered a de facto UFC belt (I certainly value it more than, say, Dave Menne's UFC Middleweight Championship). The UFC belt proper never materialized, and short of a borderline miracle on Saturday, never will. The most impressive thing about Faber is how amazingly consistent he's been: at 37, I don't think he's particularly slower, weaker or less durable than he was in his 20s. Of course, he's not much technically better either, so he just functions as a consistent marker jammed in the ground for the rest of the division to measure themselves against.
David: Faber is MMA's Dan Marino. I used to think it was Kenny Florian. But he turned out to be Jonah Lehrer instead. To be fair, if there's any challenger as such a heavy underdog with the chance to make this fight interesting, Faber is a solid candidate. While Cruz has steadily improved his defense and footwork, this matchup is at least different enough from the Dillashaw fight to pose its own challenges, however feint.
What are the stakes?
Phil: 5th or 6th time lucky for Faber? Realistically he's still one of the more popular fighters at 135, and is a savvy negotiator. Doubt he had much problems convincing the UFC to let him take another crack at Cruz, especially since they don't like each other very much. Technically they're 1-1 against each other, so it's not exactly unsellable, even if it's not competitively compelling.
David: Yea not much to report. The stakes are self explanatory: nothing more dramatic than usual, but a title fight's a title fight. To me, the biggest loss would be Cruz' trash talk if he lost. So much of it relies on that "no transitional fossils? What do you call this Australopithecus jaw from Kenya mothertrucka?!" quality that would clearly be diminished in the face of categorical defeat.
Where do they want it?
Phil: Cruz is one of the most purely dedicated outfighters in the sport. Angles, feints and timing are the core, which operates by skirting at the edges of what's considered fundamentally sound, or perhaps "conventional wisdom" would be a bit more complimentary. Cruz will move on an angle towards the weaker side of an opponent, then already be pulling his weight back to move to the strong side and counter as they bite on the feint. He lands strikes at maximum extension, but without much pop on them, to leave his opponents deliberately flummoxed. Then he comes in with the takedowns when they try to close him down.
Some outfighters are about misdirection in order to bait opponents into hard strikes, but Cruz is largely misdirection into more misdirection into more misdirection. He definitely enjoys making people look stupid.
David: A lot of fighters build their games around what they have: big left hook, ADCC level grappling, K-1 level kickboxing. This is called top down fight building. Cruz builds around what isn't there (bottom up fight building). A lot of his skills (save for that scintillating knee tap) aren't great in a vacuum. But used in conjunction with his movement, and he's a nightmare. The movement, as everyone will continue to talk about, is key. The bouncing around looks a bit funny, but it keeps opponents from measuring distance properly. With his pivots, it's hard to commit to specific strikes, and it's even harder to do this while playing defense.
It's why he foregoes power strikes. Big punches require proper stance, and torque: things he has to sacrifice for his style of constant lateral and non lateral movement.
Phil: Urijah Faber. Big right hand. Guillotine. RNC. More than that? I think so, just about. Like Dan Henderson, Urijah is slightly misrepresented as being the sum of his outside and inside games, when in actuality the depth in his approach rests in the interstitial areas. He's a very good clinch fighter, essentially. I'm not sure if he would have beaten Frankie Saenz if he hadn't exploded with a barrage of clinch elbows during the very close first round.
David: Faber hasn't slowed down, but he isn't exactly speeding up. What's kept him relevant is his mind for the game. While his tools are limited, he doesn't limit his tools with predictability and laziness. He's still so dynamic at going from proximity to in your face. His ability to close distance is essentially what made his first bout with Cruz was so much fun: landing quality shots by starting with footwork, and reading Cruz' movement before committing to punches as opposed to templating his attack beforehand the way Dillashaw did. Even though Cruz is a better fighter, it's kind of incredible how much more effective Faber was than TJ at landing strikes despite the fact that TJ is just a far better MMA striker than Faber.
Insight from past fights?
Phil: Well, these two have fought twice before. As above, I think the key (and Faber's only realistic chance) is in clinch offense. His only semi-consistent success in their second fight came when he caught Cruz exiting the clinch and running too eagerly back to the outside, when Faber put Cruz on his backside by clipping him square.
Other than that, none of it really looks good. Faber has never been good at dealing with movement, or kicks, or pace.
David: Well he uses plenty of his own, but he doesn't know how to use movement, kicks, and pace in service of defense or counterattack. Cruz has gotten so much better at his lateral movement and pivots that I don't even see Faber landing anything like what he did in the first bout.
Phil: Faber's 37 and Cruz is injured a lot. Not much more than that. They're both pros, I don't expect them to let the personal aspect get to them.
David: Yep. Nothing to report.
Phil: Faber needs to land the shot of his life and the subsequent follow-up of his life. Cruz is the smarter and more adaptive fighter, in possession of a toolset which can be adapted far more efficiently than Faber's. Dominic Cruz by unanimous decision.
David: No words. Just images.
June 1, 2016
Dominick Cruz by Decision.