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UFC 249: Henry Cejudo vs. Dominick Cruz Toe-to-Toe Preview - A complete breakdown

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Phil and David are back to break down everything you need to know about UFC 249: Cejudo vs. Cruz, and everything you don’t about physical distancing in a facepunching contest.

Henry Cejudo vs. Dominick Cruz co-headlines UFC 249 this May 9, 2020 at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.

One sentence summary:

David: Back from the dead versus Went to his head

Phil: Arrogant vs big-headed for the bantamweight crown


Record: Henry Cejudo 15-2 | Dominick Cruz 22-2

Odds: Henry Cejudo -225 Dominick Cruz +205

History / Introduction to Both Fighters

David: Say what you want about him, but Cejudo is doing the kind of things everyone gave Conor McGregor credit for despite not doing, which is actually defend the title(s) he won. To that extent, I give him props. On the other hand, we have to listen to him speak. Well, technically we don’t. But a job’s a job. To that end we only ended up here because Cejudo wanted the Jose Aldo fight, which itself was a headscratcher - all due respect to Aldo, but only Chael Sonnen gets to earn title fights while coming off a loss. A part of me is fine with this kind of political matchmaking. It’s how Pride built auras out of Fedor, CroCop, and Nog - because their biggest wins were surrounded by the utter violence of easy matchups. But now we’ve got from political matchmaking to barrel scraping. Hilariously, the UFC managed to strike gold in the muck this time. Because Cruz is dangerous.

Phil: My podcast co-host raised an interesting thought about Cejudo: that he’s always been a bit of a coaster, something like McGregor. He needs to be motivated to become the best at something, and if he doesn’t know what he’s headed for, then he gets distracted. The stories of how he had to be basically dragged back into his training in the Olympics, or the more recent memories of how he repeatedly messed up weight cuts. He might have decided that he’s at the cash-out stage, and that it’s the time to chase fights with faded legends. It sets up a dynamic which could potentially backfire... but which probably won’t.

David: As Roy Jones Jr once said during his failed rap career, ‘ya’ll must have forgot!’ There’s a good reason we forgot, though. Even the most loyal fans lost count of how many ACL’s Cruz has blown, how many groins torn, how many shoulders injured, plantar fascitis - basically, the worst parts of the Bible. The injury dogs and cats have lived together in Cruz’ tissue since 2012. It’s kind of inspiring to suffer all that and think ‘I still got it.’ He should be too injured for this shit. He’s not. And so here we are.

Phil: I mean, he could still be too injured for this shit, it’s just that the commission doctors are too busy looking for COVID-19 to be able to pick up on whatever bits of him have fallen off since the last time he stepped in the cage. Plus, they’ve never been the most diligent guys at the best of times. It’s a strange position that Cruz finds himself in; a bit like his rival Faber a few years back, he’s fighting for a belt when there are more deserving contenders, and when he knows himself that he’s being put in there because he’s not being favoured to win.

What’s at stake?

David: A bit more than usual. After all, the winner can end up on Mortal Kombat island, and fight for the fate of the world.

Phil: If Cruz somehow wins this one, he authors perhaps the biggest comeback in the sport, made even more remarkable by the fact that he’s already done it once before. If Cejudo walks away and retains? Who knows, more silly fights.

Where do they want it?

David: Cejudo has evolved out of his wrestle-boxer shell to become a better wrestle-boxer, basically. I don’t know where this idea comes from; that he’s a butterfly edgelord. To me, his style hasn’t changed so much as he’s learning to become a better problem solver. When you watch his recent fights compared to his old fights, he’s just making quicker adjustments. Against Moraes, he realized getting his legs turned to linguini was a bad idea so he solved the distance problem with better punch entries. Against DJ, he started anticipating his opponent’s offense better (mixed returns IMO, as I still think DJ won). Dillashaw showed up as a cancer patient, and got belted. As truly good as Cejudo is, his title wins haven’t taught us as much as we think. And MMA is a history that cycles like a dosage of ritalin. One title win, and we’ve entered your “era.” Two title wins, and you’ve got a statue in Philly. None of this is to take away from Cejudo’s genuine ability. Cejudo has excellent hands. No matter how many women he challenges to a cage fight, his fight IQ is high. His wrestling creds speak for themselves. And the fact that he’s transitioned a legit sports career into a successful fight career is a testament to his fortitude. But I mention this because I think Cruz has a genuine chance to win. Yes, even the current Resident Evil experiment version.

Phil: Cejudo has indeed developed in strange directions. The wrestling never really served as much more than a safety valve in his early career, where he just clinched and punched and clinched and punched, occasionally tossing his opponent to the mat. Unlike some converts, his wresting never really bloomed again, although it did ironically serve as the centerpiece of his best “win”, over DJ, characterized as it is by top control and inertia. The clinch offense and the striking around it has become much more threatening by proxy: whether Cejudo has a single or a double collar, he has an iron grip, and his previously featherfisted punching has become legitimately dangerous. He’s still a somewhat one handed puncher (his fight with Moraes was basically him switching back and forth between southpaw right jab and orthodox right overhand until Moraes walked into it) and his tendency to blurt forward with major commitments could get him potentially blast doubled were this the Cruz that we know and love from 4+ years ago.

David: In his prime, no one moved in and out of attack entries like Cruz. His lateral movement was built like a katamari ball, building momentum and density until the opponent lost all hope just through sheer movement. The rest of his skills weren’t much to write him about. His fists hold minimal power, he doesn’t kick all that much, and while his wrestling is good, he doesn’t have enough submission prowess to really threaten in dominant or even implicit ways. And yet, it was hard to imagine anyone beating him until Cody Garbrandt. Not to relitigate that fight here, but it’s a fight with its own story to tell. You can see where the years of injuries — and this was before his current four-year layoff — finally took their toll. No longer taking full, lateral strides away from the pocket, his movement was choppier, less confident, and less quick. Plus almost all of Cody’s success came from catching Cruz coming in. That’s not to make excuses. It’s just, the simplest explanation and all. Cruz’ ability always relied on entry agility. He lost that. The extent that it’ll punish him remains to be seen in the cage. Outside of it, you need only tally up his medical bills.

Phil: Cruz is one of those fighters where you can both clearly see how injuries would adversely affect his game, and where you can also easily see how he picks quite so many injuries up. He darts, he stutter steps, and he plays with angles. Much of his style is built around deception, and this extends to his punching form, where he extends his arms out to their limits to loop them around in a different direction to the one he’s coming from, which typically robs them of their power. I think I referred to him at some point as someone with a deep library of angles and approaches, but where everything in the library is written in ALL CAPS. However, even in the quote unquote modern era there are many things to like about Cruz’ approach. He emphasizes pace, combination striking and diversity, and while not many of his opponents in the UFC got finished, it had to have been an absolutely miserable experience fighting him. What made it all work was the wrestling: the errors in position to give up a clean double leg are simply greater than those necessary to land an effective punch, and so Cruz’ exaggeration has historically worked to pull opponents into an educated collection of takedowns.

Insight from past fights?

David: Unlike most high profile matchups, their losses tell us a lot. Cejudo’s losses told us a lot about his development, and the fighter that still lingers within that development. Cruz’ loss told us a lot about the realities of his human-Lopan like frailty. That leaves us, where, I don’t know. But I will say this. Let’s assume Cruz is even 70 percent of the man who got ragdolled by Garbrandt. How does that guy matchup against Cejudo? Hot take: reasonably well. Cejudo is still a pocket fighter. While his movement is a lot better (he even switches stances!), it’s still a perfect base for Cruz to open up double legs, knee taps, and those wide angle punches. No, obviously, I’m not talking about Cruz outwrestling Cejudo: only pointing out that the positions Cruz can take advantage of. Cruz beat Dillashaw largely on this strategy: sometimes getting tagged or pressured, Cruz was able to outpoint TJ on the strength of his level changes. Cruz doesn’t even have to get takedowns. He just has to leave Cejudo trying to counter, and on his back foot. Cejudo is a stronger puncher than TJ, but he’s not near as dynamic. Nor does Cejudo pressure the way TJ does.

Phil: The main analogue for “right handed, athletic wrestle boxer” in Cruz’ resume is probably Urijah Faber, and specifically their second fight, which was closer than it should have been. Unfortunately for Cruz, his insistence on volume and pace can be used against him by people who simply wait until they are sure they can hit him, and then try and exchange as hard as they can. As such, Faber put Cruz on his butt a few times. On the other side of the equation, though, Cejudo’s attempts to close down fighters with reach or speed advantages over him (DJ and Moraes primarily) have mostly been miserable. So it’s a reasonably intriguing clash, or would be if Cruz were intact.


David: Two fighters coming off injuries battling it out in the middle of a global pandemic...I think there’s a word for that...

Phil: Lmao


David: Gotta stick with my guns. I’ve never been a serious analyst anyway. Yes, I’m picking Cruz. Even knowing Cruz is a shell of his former self. Still, shells can be dangerous. Much of Cruz’ vulnerabilities have come from single shots of fighters catching him coming in (Cody), or darting in themselves (TJ, Faber). Cejudo doesn’t have that temperament. And Cruz has a heck of a chin. Is that enough? Probably not. But nothing is more fleeting than MMA gold. If Cejudo, after having won gold in two divisions, and well on his way to successfully defending them both...lost it all because he took a short notice fight to a past-his-prime Dominick Cruz — himself on a four-year layoff — in the middle of a pandemic? Well it wouldn’t be the craziest thing we’ve seen in MMA. Dominick Cruz by Decision.

Phil: Prime vs prime, I think Cruz wins this. He has a size advantage, and any flaws in his striking would be offset by how purely monotonous Cejudo is. I also think Cejudo’s tendency to bite down and just get after it, which he used to such effect against Moraes, would backfire horribly against someone like Cruz, who wouldn’t panic and would instead calmly rack up more volume and takedowns. That being said, it’s nothing more than wishful thinking to assume that Cruz is in anything like peak form. Coming back after an injury-riddled three year layoff is one thing, but two of them? Sometimes, like Velasquez-Ngannou, you just have to assume that you’re going to see a ghost of the man that stepped in there the last time. Henry Cejudo by TKO, round 2.