Dominick Cruz fights like a 1920s old-timey newsreel of spliced film. He hiccups, skips, then reappears two seconds advanced flicking jabs. He feints, leans, pirouettes and moves in multiple directions at once. His aesthetic is unparalleled, and that’s one of the reasons he’s emerged as a dominant champion. You don’t get Victrola-era movement like that anywhere else other than from Cruz. He may not possess one-punch power, but he just might be the most dynamic give-and-take fighter to ever be so evasive.
As such, he’s very difficult fighter to train for, and yet Demetrious Johnson -- a natural 125-pounder, who will make ripples in that division once its introduced into the UFC -- did a great job of obliterating all the head and foot movement, all the shifting angles and levels to disrupt Cruz’s atypical rhythm.
In the end, a lot of good it did him. The scorecards said it all: 50-45 twice, 49-46 once for Cruz. The Sphinx may have been tested, but it was hardly solved.
Johnson one-upped Cruz’s tempo for a great portion of Saturday’s UFC Live 6 fight, managed to send him reeling and pepper him in flurries, but Cruz proved a more versatile, more evolved fighter than the one who began this 10-fight winning streak. He adjusted. He suplexed Johnson spectacularly. Twice. He transitioned through submission attempts. He boxed with sharp combos and cycled in the leg kicks. He found himself with Johnson’s back, in full mount, in side control and in the position to end things with a couple of rear-naked choke attempts in the third.
In other words, the bantamweight champion improvised when Mighty Mouse forced him into being something canny, and still ended up in dominant positions. Johnson matched Cruz in the speed department, but there was too much hazard in the flickering thing he coerced into fighting differently. It wasn’t nickel and diming (as he’s been accused of doing in the past); this was resilience.
Johnson never chomped on Cruz’s prolific feints. He mixed things up, set up his right, threw combos, went for (and scored) takedowns, and defended himself nicely in danger spots (the third round chokes, he treated as empty threats). When Johnson got in close late, fishing for a finish when he had to, he was planted headfirst into the canvas with judo throws. Like the spring he is, he got back up.
Just as everybody knew he would be, Johnson was game.
But he was outclassed by Cruz, and he joins a long line of fighters who’ve been filed away in the same drawer.
“You’ve got to be able to switch everything up,” Cruz said after. “You can’t fight everyone the same.”
And he proved that he’s capable of adjusting on the fly tonight, that he’s just as comfortable fighting outside his comfort zone. He’ll never be accused of having knockout power. But then again, if things keep going this way for Cruz in his “attempt to make history,” he might be the farthest fighter from needing it.