Dominick ‘The Dominator’ Cruz returns to the octagon this weekend at UFC 249 for the first time in three-and-a-half years. He hasn’t fought since his loss to Cody ‘No Love’ Garbrandt at UFC 207 back in December of 2016, and he faces none other than the UFC Bantamweight Champion Henry ‘Triple-C’ Cejudo for the UFC Bantamweight Championship. Many people disagree with the matchmaking, given the fact of how long Cruz has been out, as well as the fact he’s coming off a loss, and also that there are more deserving contenders at bantamweight, such as Aljamain Sterling, Petr Yan, or Cory Sandhagen.
However, if anyone remembers correctly, Cruz’s most devastating performance came after three years away from the octagon. He was always a decision king, but he came out and viciously KO’d the ultra durable Takeya Mizugaki in 61 seconds. No one expected that, no one even knew if he’d be the same after that long of a layoff, but he surprised all of us. Cruz sat out another fifteen-and-a-half months with injuries until he fought then champion TJ Dillashaw, a fight he won via split decision, and was again crowned the UFC Bantamweight Champion. He’s proven to all of us ring rust is a mentality, and if he did it then, he can do it again.
Granted, Mizugaki isn’t ‘Triple-C’, who also has a victory over Dillashaw. Cruz certainly has his work cut out for him. Neither fighter had a decent amount of time to train for one another either. The UFC Bantamweight Champion was scheduled to defend his title against Jose Aldo at an event titled UFC 250, the same night he’ll be fighting Cruz, but Aldo was unable to make the trip, granting ‘The Dominator’ the shot. Cejudo was at least preparing for competition, he just has a completely different opponent to prepare for and fight now. While Cruz had no idea a month ago that he’d be fighting ‘Triple-C’ on May 9.
Something really interesting about this fight, the champion started his win streak around the time of Cruz’s last fight. Cejudo of course lost convincingly to Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson the first time they fought, then he lost to Joseph Benavidez via split decision before going on his current win streak. That fight with Benavidez happened on December 3, 2016, Cruz’s last fight was December 30 of that year. That means Cejudo has gone 5-0 since Cruz last fought, avenging his loss to Johnson, winning the UFC Flyweight Championship, defending it against TJ Dillashaw, then moving up to win the vacant UFC Bantamweight Championship against Marlon Moraes.
After starting out his career at 10-0, then losing two in a row, it did something to him. Cejudo’s a much different animal now. How he injured himself in the ‘Mighty Mouse’ rematch and having lost the first round, he came back to win the fight, not to mention the severe adversity he overcame against Moraes, the six-time WSOF Bantamweight Champion.
Cruz has also dealt with an insane amount of adversity, he’s the most injury-prone fighter in UFC history. The only fighter that’s ever had that bad of luck is himself and Cain Velasquez, two of the best ever, unfortunately. ‘The Dominator’ was the long time bantamweight king, winning the WEC Bantamweight Championship, defending it twice, then being promoted to UFC Bantamweight Champion and defending that belt twice, then he had a long series of injuries and was eventually stripped of his crown. Once he won the title back, he defended it once more before losing it to ‘No Love’. He came back to reign supreme once before, can he do it again?
It’s unfortunate, one thing that would’ve made this fight even more interesting is Cruz’s promoting skills, he talks a good game. He can get into his opponents heads before the fight with his logic, then pick them apart the entire fight with his skills. The way Cruz talked about Cejudo not knowing who he is as a person, saying he spent his whole life training and not finding himself, it got deep. That was quite a while ago, well before this fight was announced.
With this being a short notice fight, along with the whole coronavirus pandemic, this fight won’t have all the promotion it could have. The UFC could’ve given the shot to someone else and had Cruz take a No. 1 contender fight, but he can’t ever seem to stay healthy enough to stay consistent, it could be a missed opportunity.
Henry Cejudo (15-2) vs. Dominick Cruz (22-2)
The way these two match up together is interesting, no one knows how it’ll go. Put Cruz’s lack of consistency aside. If he’s at his best right now, how does this fight go? ‘The Dominator’ is the pioneer of elite footwork in MMA, so much so that a number of fighters have taken that part of his game for their own. One of them being former bantamweight king TJ Dillashaw. He admittedly took that from Cruz, and he’s one of the best in the game at it now, but we all saw how Dillashaw’s footwork did against Cejudo. He got cut off, ran down, and beat up. Regardless of what many think of that being an early stoppage, ‘Triple-C’ was certainly getting the upper hand in a big way.
That being said, Dillashaw is much more dangerous with his striking than Cruz, but he also gets hit a lot more. Does that mean Cruz will be able to dance around the outside and stick and move, or does the same thing happen to him? Those are the two most plausible outcomes in this match up. Cruz can use his footwork and hit Cejudo without being hit to win a decision, or Cejudo could cut Cruz off and get some hits on him. Both of these two also started out their one-on-one careers with wrestling, and it would be very interesting to see how that’d play out as well.
Cruz can mix it up as well as anyone, he mixes his strikes into his takedowns so beautifully, not many people can do that like himself. He’s out-wrestled everyone he’s ever fought aside from his last fight with Garbrandt. From Urijah Faber all three times they fought, to Demetrious Johnson, to Scott Jorgensen, to Joseph Benavidez both times they fought, to TJ Dillashaw, Cruz out-wrestled all of them, and handily. All five of those names started wrestling while they were growing up, and three competed in freestyle wrestling at an NCAA Division I college.
‘Triple-C’ is of course more credentialed of a wrestler than we’ve ever seen in the sport, being an Olympic Gold Medalist in freestyle wrestling at just 19-years-old. He was a high school State Champion in both his junior and senior year, and was named ASICS National High School Wrestler of the Year in 2006. That same year, while still in high school, Cejudo won the USA Wrestling National Freestyle Championship. He won the Pan American Championships that same year, and got a silver medal in the US World Team Trials. He also won the Pan American Championships the next two years in 2007 and 2008, as well as being the 2007 Pan American Games winner, and the 2007 Wrestling World Cup Bronze Medalist.
As Cruz has said, and as Dillashaw also said before he fought Cejudo, MMA wrestling is different than freestyle wrestling. The thing is, Cejudo can do both, he’s also out-wrestled everyone he’s ever fought. That makes this even more interesting. They can both mix it up very well, and both are incredibly tough, both mentally and physically.
Neither are particularly finishers, with eight of the champions wins coming via decision, and thirteen of the former champions wins coming via decision, but both have proven they can finish fights. Cruz had that slaughtering of Mizugaki, and Cejudo finished his last two opponents in two of the three biggest fights of his life.
The other things to mention when talking about this fight are their common opponents and their frames. They’ve both fought TJ Dillashaw, Demetrious Johnson, and Joseph Benavidez.
They both defeated Dillashaw, Cejudo via TKO just 32 seconds into the first round, and Cruz via split decision in a very close, competitive fight. Cejudo lost convincingly to Johnson the first time around via TKO in round one, then came back in the rematch and won a very close and competitive split decision, while Cruz dominated Johnson for all five rounds of their bantamweight title fight. To be fair, Johnson wasn’t one of the best ever at that point.
Their last common opponent is Benavidez, who Cruz defeated twice, taking him down twelve times total without being taken down once, and Cejudo lost to him via split decision in a fight that could’ve gone either way. The champion stands just 5’4” and only has a 64” reach, as opposed to the former champion, who stands 5’8” and has a 69” reach. This could be huge, because Dillashaw stands 5’6” and has a 67” reach, maybe the extra couple inches could help Cruz keep his distance.
This is an insanely fun, and important fight going down this weekend in UFC 249’s co-main event. Does the former champion have another successful comeback, winning back the UFC Bantamweight Championship, or does the current champion have his first successful title defense at bantamweight?