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Ludwig: Something was off with Dominick Cruz in UFC 207 title loss

Dominick Cruz, right, lost his UFC bantamweight title by decision to Cody Garbrandt in December. Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

LAS VEGAS -- When Dominick Cruz addressed the media after losing his bantamweight title by decision to Cody Garbrandt at UFC 207 in December, he was immediately asked to critique his own performance.

Some observers, one reporter informed Cruz, didn't think he looked like himself that night.

"They're wrong," Cruz responded. "I was there. That was 100 percent me. I was healthy. I was everything I've always been."

Duane Ludwig, a UFC veteran who coached against Cruz one year ago, remains unconvinced.

Ludwig is in Las Vegas to film "The Ultimate Fighter" reality series alongside his star pupil, former bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw. Cruz defeated Dillashaw in a five-round championship fight early last year. The bout was extremely close, with Cruz coming away with a split decision.

The focus for Dillashaw (14-3) is now the undefeated Garbrandt, who is widely considered one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world after his electric performance against Cruz. Ludwig says Garbrandt is a fantastic talent but believes that he didn't face the best version of Cruz.

"Cody looked really good in his last fight, but I will say this: Cruz did not look good," Ludwig told ESPN's 5ive Rounds podcast. "Cruz looked off. I think he took the high road and said he was healthy, but he did not look like the same Cruz at all.

"Cruz's footwork wasn't there. Mentally and physically, he didn't look the same. I can't say for sure he had an injury, but he wasn't feinting and pumping like he typically does to pull guys in."

Ludwig is the former head coach of Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, where Garbrandt trains. Ludwig said he congratulated Garbrandt and his head coach Justin Buchholz on a terrific performance, but his observations about Cruz remain the same.

"It was a combination of Cody having a really good night and Cruz having an off night," Ludwig said. "That's what happened in my very expert opinion. I've been in this game a long time. This is what I do. I've dedicated my life to martial arts. In my professional, expert opinion, Cruz looked off."

Whether or not Ludwig's assessment of Cruz is correct, Garbrandt (11-0) represents an enormous challenge standing in the way of Dillashaw reclaiming the title. The fight will take place at a date to be announced this summer, after TUF airs.

There is well-documented history between the two sides. Dillashaw used to train at Team Alpha Male before there was a contentious split between him and the camp. Dillashaw accuses his former coaches and teammates of feeding into the drama of his departure, and he says that may work to his benefit when he meets Garbrandt later this year.

"I hope [the stakes] are raised, but they're going to be on his side," Dillashaw said. "It's really not a generic answer -- I have enough pressure on myself to win this belt back. Even when it was Dominick Cruz, I felt I could beat the guy and I wanted my belt back, so there was pressure there. Now it's Cody, who is an idiot and wants to look cool on TV.

"No matter who has the belt, who's in front of me, there's going to be drama. So it's more about the opportunity of getting the belt back."