It doesn't happen often, sometimes it is hard to identify as it is happening, but every now and then the winds of change blow through the sport of MMA. At times those winds are like a small breeze, at other times they are gale force hurricane winds.
Spanning back to the days of Don Frye incorporating multiple disciplines into his fighting style almost two decades ago, change has gripped this sport and often MMA has celebrated those who forced both athletes and fans to see this game in a new light.
Another example of course would be Georges St-Pierre, a man who has forced the issue of not only cross training, but becoming elite at all elements of this game as opposed to excelling at one area and just being knowledgeable in others. Now a fighter must be the complete master of all his crafts, not just the one he is good at naturally.
The blueprint has been re-written time and time again.
The winds of change have been blowing again, the landscape of MMA is changing and adopting new practices and approaches that have proven strong enough to facilitate championship runs by various athletes.
Two men have swept their MMA divisions by storm, UFC divisions to be specific: UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar and UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. Both men employ a similar approach in the cage and have taken their schools of thought all the way to the bank with UFC gold secured around their waists.
It is a style of high intensity movement, aggression, technique and generalship that has seen these two elite fighters seize their divisions and refuse to turn them loose. Edgar has run off from his division the most elite LW in MMA history, B.J. Penn. And Cruz has set the bar so high at BW it has become puzzling to assume who might stop his charge.
They have created a puzzle that has proven almost impossible to solve. The level of complexity, skill and game planning they bring to the table has definitely changed the way many people are looking at this sport.
The UFC BW Champ Cruz was kind enough to sit down with Hurtsbad.com recently and discuss his style along with aspects of potential future opponents, healing and training, and various other aspects of his MMA career.
The man has found his name listed by Sherdog as number 10 on the top pound for pound mixed martial artists list and he takes great pride in the recognition. He credits his camp for preparing him as they do. It is their hard work every bit as much as his own that has created one of the most gifted fighters on the planet.
Cruz had this to say about his camp and their approach to training.
“The training camps I do are anywhere from ten to twelve weeks long. It is a ton of hard work. I’m just glad that I’ve been fortunate enough to have the training partners that I have had to get me good looks in every fight.
“My coach Eric Del Fierro is a great game planner, so between the training partners I have at Alliance and the game planning that I have with my coach I just basically go to the gym and I become that robot.
“I am told what to do and my job is to do 110 percent every single workout and beat myself up until my body can’t do it anymore. Everything else gets run around me, it’s pretty nice.”
Dom as his friends call him recently became the first ever UFC BW champion in front of his home crowd in Glendale Arizona. Being a Tucson-raised fighter, Dom was able to defend his WEC title and earn the first-ever UFC BW title right at home in front of his friends and family.
It was quite an experience for the champ and he tried to put into words what it was like to do that.
“I can’t even explain it. I was at a loss for words. It was just crazy to see myself on the big screen getting that. You don’t believe it’s really happening, it’s kind of like a dream almost when that is taking place.”
The champ laughed to himself and was sure to point out that is was no dream and he has proof.
"But I have got both the belts sitting on my couch right now, and they are there so it happened, it’s pretty crazy."
There is one man walking the planet who can say with a straight face that he has beaten Dominick Cruz. That man is perennial top of the food chain fighter Urijah Faber. Faber is a man who at the very least does not exchange pen pal notes with Cruz.
To quote an old Eddie Murphy movie, “they aren't partners, they aren't brothers, and they damn sure ain't friends” to put it gently. Faber has beaten Cruz, and Cruz has beaten Faber student and Team Alpha Male standout Joseph Benavidez not once but twice. So it is safe to say there is no love lost.
Many fight fans are in tune to this quiet but apparent feud between Cruz and Faber and would love nothing more than to see these two elite athletes touch gloves one more time now that Faber has found his way to the division Cruz now rules with an iron fist.
Of course Faber is scheduled to fight Eddie Wineland on March 19th for number one contender status and is not a lock to meet Cruz by any means. But the champ offered his opinion on the match up when asked about a potential rematch with "The California Kid."
Cruz stated, “What I train to do is just to fight the best in the world. I always want to fight the next best guy the next contender. That's who I want to fight are the best guys in the world. So whoever the UFC has for me I’m pumped.”
Regarding the match between Faber and Wineland in particular the champ stated, “You know, I’m pumped for that fight. I’m excited to see how Urijah does against a good striker like Wineland. That’s a good test for Faber because Wineland is no slouch. He has had a good winning streak going and he has been doing really good.
“I’m excited to see his game plan against Faber, and Faber’s game plan against him. Is Faber going to try to stand with him for the whole fight, or is he going to go for the takedown like he always does?
“There are a lot of things that make the fight interesting and I’m excited to watch it. I just want to get in there with the better of the two and put it on them.”
Not that he stated a preference as to who he would like to meet, but Cruz did say this about Faber in particular.
“Of course I would like to get in there and get my loss back from Urijah without a doubt. He would be someone that I would definitely like to fight for sure. And for a lot of different reasons. Yeah I am interested in that without a doubt.”
As mentioned before Cruz is one of a few fighters blazing a trail on the cutting edge of MMA fighting and game planning. His style is as unique as his personality, but it is a style that is quickly taking hold in this sport. Cruz talked about the roots of his approach and how it came to be.
“Really it comes down to starting my striking as a wrestler for one. And then not just boxing, not just kickboxing, not just doing Muay Thai, but I was always incorporating striking with my wrestling.
“I was always trying to figure out how to adjust my wrestling to work better against Jiu Jitsu. I have always just been trying to make adjustments to make it through an MMA fight. Not a boxing fight, not a wrestling match, not a Jiu Jitsu match, but everything all together.”
Giving credit where it is due Dom spoke specifically about his head coach.
“It’s something that I have worked on, trying to be well rounded and mix everything together from the start. It has worked out. I attribute it like I said to my training partners, and my coach Eric Del Fierro.
“A lot of this stuff that I did, I already did, but he kind of polished it up, fixed it, added more to it, and we have continued to just build my arsenal each fight. I’m able to add a different move to the my arsenal every single fight. Every fight that I go into I have a different game plan and different approach. It has paid off so far.”
As for his pound for pound ranking it is something Dom holds dear and takes great pride in. When your on a list with GSP, Anderson Silva, and Jose Aldo its hard to not be taken with one’s accomplishments.
“That is a incredible as winning the belt to me to be honest. Just to be on that list with the guys that I see on there. Just look at the guys on that list and they are the guys as a kid growing up, you want to be like them. Everybody on that list is just a beast. I have respect for everybody on there because of the things that they have done.
“So to be a part of that, I’m speechless. It means the world to me, it’s awesome. It’s good to know that I am dong the right things and I need to stay on this path and continue to do what I am doing to continue to move up.”
Even as far as he has climbed so far, Dom sees the sky as the limit.
“I’m still very new in my career. I still feel that I’m only at about 50 percent of the things that I want to do and the things that I am capable of as I continue to progress in this sport and learn. Like I said I am still a student, I still have tons of things to learn.
“That's how I look at the sport, every single day, I’m coming in there not knowing anything. I'm coming in to learn something brand new every single day. It’s exciting for me because I just know how much I can grow.”
Speaking of pound for pound recognition. UFC HW newcomer Matt Mitrione recently called Dom out after winning his match on the Fight For The Troops card. Matt told Dom he wanted to fight just like him and emulate his style. For a HW to point out a BW as the blue print for his own aspirations is quite a compliment. Dom was surprised to hear Mitrione point to him as a fighter he admired.
“It’s crazy to hear things like that. It’s nice to know that I'm not crazy putting this stuff together. I know it looks crazy but I think what it comes down to is a lot of people critique the way that I fight and say it’s crazy and it doesn't work and this and that.
“The bottom line is the fighters understand what I am doing out there because they do it every single day, they understand the technique behind it. The things that I am doing, I’m not just doing it to look crazy or flashy. I’m doing it to set things up and to figure out a way to to go in there and win, and do it in a dominating, full complete style without there being any questions.
“It was cool, it was really nice to hear that. Especially from someone like Mitrione who had an awesome performance that night, he looked great. I think he did a pretty good job for his weight class, and the way that he moved was very impressive to me.”
As for his participation in the UFC FFTT event Dom was taken back by the sacrifices of The U.S. Armed Forces, and he was more than happy to play a role in helping them unwind and entertain them for a short time.
“More than anything to me it was awesome to get a look behind the scenes to see what these guys go through every day and the things that they do. Really, the time and years of their lives that they literally sacrifice for a career, I see a lot of similarities in the way that we live as fighters.
“There are so many things that I have had to sacrifice, and have sacrificed to be where I’m at. Everyone that is in the service is doing more than that because they're doing that, plus their lives on top of it they are sacrificing to be where they are at.
“They are doing it so that I can do the fun and awesome things that I get to do and just entertain the fans. It was just cool to see the look on their faces when I was there, and that I could just put a smile on their faces, and do something for them. To have the UFC go and put a show on for them, they were ecstatic. They were some of the most awesome fans I have ever seen.”
In closing the champ had this to say about his time with the troops.
“I have nothing but good things to say about that experience and I will do anything I can for the troops because they do a lot for us.”
Well said by one of the class acts of this game. For the staff at Hurtsbad.com it was an absolute honor to sit down with the champ and get the perspective of one of the greatest fighters in this sport.
Thank you to the champ for taking the time out from healing and training to share his take on various aspects of this sport he loves so dearly.
To hear this interview in its entirety visit Hurtsbad Radio at Hurtsbad.com where this article was originally featured.