UFC on Versus: Is Dominick Cruz Playing It Too Safe?
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Another bantamweight title fight in the books, and yet again, more questions remained unanswered. At UFC 6 LIVE, Dominick Cruz (19-1) successfully defended his title against challenger Demetrious Johnson (9-2). After five rounds of nonstop action, Cruz yet again had his hand raised in victory, but with the victory, may have more critics questioning his title reign than before.
"The Dominator" started his title reign by defeating Brian Bowles at WEC 47 via doctor stoppage when Bowles couldn't continue after breaking his hand. Many thought after that victory that the awkward, fast-footed striker needed to prove he was worthy of being called a champion.
In Cruz's first title defense, he fought Joseph Benavidez—an opponent he had already defeated to earn his shot at the champion, Bowles. After five grueling rounds, fans around the world anticipated a decision on a fight that was extremely difficult to judge. Many thought Benavidez won the fight based on attempting to finish the fight with a guillotine in the fourth and more effective striking while pushing the tempo.
However, in the end, Dominick Cruz was awarded the decision, a decision that surprised many in the MMA world.
Cruz narrowly escaped WEC 50 with the title to fight a very good wrestler in Scotty Jorgensen at WEC 53. Cruz imposed his will, pressed the action and with his superior takedown defense, outlasted Jorgensen for yet another five rounds to win quite a decisive victory.
Then came the rematch Cruz had been waiting for: a chance to redeem the only loss of his career. The first-ever bantamweight title defense in UFC history was almost the most anticipated and the biggest draw ZUFFA could put together. WEC poster boy Urijah Faber challenged Dominick Cruz.
Yet again, after five rounds, a controversial decision was made, and Cruz, despite being knocked down twice in the fight, used "point striking" in order to edge Faber. Again, MMA fans questioned the decision, and started questioning the champion himself. Does he have the killer instinct to finish fights?
The chance for him to answer all questions came at UFC LIVE 6 on Versus. A heavily favored Cruz would be facing an undersized—and maybe more fit for a future flyweight division—Demetrious Johnson. For the first time in Cruz's career, he looked beat on his feet. Johnson looked more crisp, faster and began to cause problems for the champion.
Cruz's awkward style and footwork didn't seem to phase the challenger. Cruz wisely changed his game plan and used his size and ever-improving grappling to keep Johnson on the mat, and even scored massive points by nearly submitting Johnson in the third round via rear-naked choke. However, once again, Cruz escaped with his title by unanimous decision.
There's a thin line in MMA between playing it safe (or in some cases, "smart") and being content with any victory, that some just don't want to toe. In this case, it seems necessary. Does Cruz posses that killer instinct that makes a champion?
Since being under the ZUFFA flag (WEC and UFC), Cruz has not finished a fight. He doesn't hold a knockout victory or a submission over any opponent since 2008, and the only fight with ZUFFA that didn't go the distance was a doctor stoppage in which he was awarded the bantamweight title. Fans already feel that isn't a way any fighter wants to be crowned a champion. In four defenses since, two have been heavily questioned, and all four went the distance.
Can Cruz finish a fighter? Is he content with "out-pointing" his opponents?
You'll always hear Cruz say he's out to finish, but it's never been seen. He's never caused his opponent's true damage, and outside of a rear-naked choke that Demetrious Johnson wiggled out of, he's never had any of his opponents in any real danger of losing their fight.
While Cruz now awaits the winner of Bowles/Faber in November to meet his next opponent, the questions will continue to be asked. He'll continue to be called a "paper champion" until he finally proves he's out for blood. Maybe the "Dominator" should look for a new nickname until he can define what the word truly means.
In the mean time, he shouldn't be offended when people question his heart and true fighting spirit.
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