Dominick Cruz showed another wrinkle in his game tonight.
The problem of Demetrious Johnson’s speed was made apparent early on. Cruz relies heavily on speed and constant movement, which overshadows serious fundamental flaws in his footwork. Johnson proved he could not only keep up with Cruz, but set the pace himself. Cruz, normally used to controlling the distance in a fight, found himself pressured and, even more surprising, touched up in the first round.
Most MMA fighters resign themselves to their fate, vainly trying to force a gameplan that just isn’t working. Cruz adapted. Unable to control the fight standing, Cruz worked for takedowns — 5 in the second round, 3 in the third, 4 in the fourth, and 5 in the fifth. He suplexed Johnson in both the third and fifth rounds. His work did not stagnate on the floor either. Cruz worked for positional gains, earning the mount and tacking Johnson’s back at multiple times during the fight.
And take nothing away from Johnson, either. I had serious concerns for Cruz’s title reign at the conclusion of round one. Cruz made the necessary adjustments, but Johnson remained game throughout. FightMetric credits Johnson with a virtual tie in striking totals — 145 total strikes to Cruz’s 146.
The biggest tragedy of the night is that it’s likely that very few people watched it. Some of that is no fault of the UFC — baseball had a rare doubleheader playoff night. But the fight was grossly underpromoted, especially given the tagline that this was the first live UFC title fight on free television. It’s unlikely Cruz will ever become a big star — he doesn’t have the charisma to overcome an unpopular stick-and-move style, and unfortunately this show will do little to change that.
- UFC President Dana White has promised a flyweight division in the UFC sometime within the next year or so. Demetrious Johnson made a huge case for it tonight.
- Stefan Struve exploited Pat Barry’s inability to grapple in the co-main, but he’s made little progress on his distance management. Barry, with a foot disadvantage in both height and reach, was able to consistently get inside and tag Struve with punches on the chin and kicks to the legs. This is unacceptable, and while he’s only 23, it’s unlikely he’ll make drastic changes as he closes in on 30 professional fights.
- Speaking of unacceptable, it’s Pat Barry’s grappling. Barry refused to react as Struve deliberately set up a triangle choke. Then, when firmly locked in, he decided to try his best “Rampage” Jackson, which only dropped him deeper into the choke. It’s Barry’s third submission loss in the UFC.
- The Brothers Yamasaki had themselves some evening, capped off with Anthony Johnson’s head kick “knockout” of Charlie Brenneman. Johnson, who had dominated the first 2:30 of the fight, landed a left kick to the head, putting Brenneman on his back. Mario Yamasaki stepped in to stop the fight as Brenneman sat up with a clear look in his eyes. This followed his decision to allow Rafaello Oliveira every opportunity to have his face bashed in by Yves Edwards and brother Fernando’s own flub when he stepped in to “save” Shane Roller from a T.J. Grant armbar.
- Matt Wiman and Mac Danzig put on what many described as the Fight of the Night in the Versus opener. I, admittedly, was preoccupied with other things. Let your imagination run wild.
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