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Takedown breakdown: Dominick Cruz’s dart-double leg

The former WEC and UFC bantamweight champion played off a persistent habit to set up a fight-ending takedown

The first Takedown Breakdown last week focused on Petr Yan and how he utilized head movement and footwork to set up a slick duck-under on veteran wrestler Urijah Faber.

Yan is emerging as one of the best at understanding the links between striking and grappling, but another bantamweight — the great Dominick Cruz — has been demonstrating those links throughout his entire career.

In the past, I’ve looked at the way Cruz wrestled in MMA in both the WEC and the UFC.

Against some of the more basic wrestle-boxers he faced, the unpredictability of his striking entries usually led to tense or exaggerated responses from his opponents. Cruz could then feint entries and hit his leg attacks at a high percentage. To deal with this, many fighters took initiative and pressed Cruz, typically winging power shots while moving in on a straight line. While his head movement and backfoot positioning could be janky at times, he was elusive enough to keep his opponents chasing, which fed into reactive takedowns.

Let’s take a look at how Cruz set up a beautiful double leg on Takeya Mizugaki by combining these concepts.

VIDEO CLIP: Dominick Cruz level changes off the dart

Throughout his career, we’ve seen Cruz make use of the “dart” striking entry, a lead rear straight on an angle. Bursting in diagonally, Cruz likes to dip off to his left and bump back into his usual stance.

While the dart could be utilized for opening up further striking opportunities, Cruz prefers to touch and go, frustrating his opponents. It’s also fair to say that Cruz’s positioning doesn’t typically allow for him to open up in combination off that entry.

More often than not, when Cruz darts in, his opponent swings to counter.

In my first take on this fight for MMASucka, I profiled the basic dynamic of this fight.

“An offensive, boxing-centric fighter, Mizugaki was intent on stalking Cruz to land his trusty left hook. This made it possible for Cruz to lure Mizugaki into following him, and then abruptly change direction and spring back in for a right hand.”

Leading into this sequence, Dominick Cruz is circling off the cage to his right, into Mizugaki’s lead hand. Cutting to the opposite side and shooting a straight caused Mizugaki to shell and plant, for one moment. Mizugaki wasn’t completely frozen, he uncovered the second he felt the strike blocked and threw back with his rear hook, but Cruz had disappeared.

Cruz dart vs. Mizugaki

Boxing purists will likely point out that Cruz’s trunk movement is exaggerated, his movement is largely bending at the waist. Ideally, he’d be maintaining solid posture while using his lower body to adjust levels.

However, this is where the takedown entry begins, Cruz has more important work to be doing with his legs. To put himself in a wrestling-ready position, Cruz is stepping through the rear straight to close the distance and gain a window on the right side of Mizugaki’s hips.

Dominick Cruz takes down Takeya Mizugaki
Cruz isn’t in the best position upon entry, but his follow-through is beautiful.

By moving off slightly to his left on the entry, Cruz was able to replace his lead leg and plant it in the center of Mizugaki’s stance. A closed stance match-up like that is perfect for double legs in MMA, especially when you’ve got an opening on the hips and an opponent throwing high.

Cruz takes a short step in on that lead leg to penetrate, posturing to press his head to Mizugaki’s hip. On a traditional double, the attacking wrestler completely drops that lead knee to the ground, pivots to turn the corner and collapses the legs as they drive on that angle. Standing, it’s a bit more complicated.

Fantastic MMA wrestler Zach Makovsky recently shared some insight on his double leg philosophies.

The entry on this double was fantastic, but the finish is what really turns heads. Cruz lifts high on the near-side of the double while driving to the far-side, forcing Mizugaki to attempt to balance on one leg.

Cruz is keeping that near leg stable while pulling on the far leg, collapsing Mizugaki’s base as he runs him over. With this approach alone, Cruz probably would have finished in full or half guard.

Once he feels that resistance fade, in a split second, Cruz adjusts. His presses his head hard, higher toward the ribs, and yanks both legs back and up. By waiting on Mizugaki’s base to break, Cruz only needs to exert himself on a lift for the very end of the finish while still gaining a dominant position - side control.

Cruz isn’t the only MMA fighter to time explosive shot finishes, but it’s rare to see such precision on a takedown with constant movement like this double from Cruz.

Thank you to everyone who submitted their suggestions on Twitter, there’s more to come!