Cruz has been on a tremendous roll as of late, winning the belt in early 2010 and having defended it three straight times. He's looking to tie Miguel Torres' record of four straight bantamweight defenses as he tries to build his legacy against Johnson.
Demetrious Johnson has been the perpetual underdog his entire UFC career. He overcame the odds against both "Kid" Yamamoto and Miguel Torres thus far in 2010 and despite breaking his leg, he's healed, revitalized and ready for the challenge of competing for the title.
Will Cruz continue to dominate his bantamweight opposition? Can "Mighty Mouse" pull off something superhuman and upset the champion? Who will will be the king of 135 pounds when tomorrow night is over?
Record: 18-1 overall, 1-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: Urijah Faber (WEC 26)
How he got here: Dominick Cruz started out as a serviceable featherweight and got off to a terrific 9-0 start. Despite having barely fought professionaly for two years he was given a WEC featherweight title shot against champion Urijah Faber who quickly caught Cruz in his patented guillotine choke and forced the tap inside two minutes.
After the loss, Cruz would make the cut to bantamweight for his next WEC bout and hasn't looked back since. He earned a title shot against then-champion Brian Bowles and completely outworked the champ for two full rounds, forcing him to call it quits after the second round with a broken hand.
"The Dominator" would successfully defend his title in a rematch against Joseph Benavidez and would go on to absolutely destroy Scott Jorgensen for five consecutive rounds during the final WEC event ever. His speed had never been more impressive in a fight.
This past July, Cruz finally got his shot at revenge against Faber who had dropped down to bantamweight and he would earn it with a unanimous decision victory in which his speed and volume made up for Faber's power. With Faber taking on the former champion Bowles, Cruz accepted a bout against Demetrious Johnson while waiting to (hopefully) fulfill the trilogy with "The California Kid."
How he gets it done:Cruz has a unique style that is all his own. It includes strange movement, odd angles and constant misdirection. He's about as active as any fighter on the planet when he's in the cage and he never gets tired. His conditioning is the most important thing to him because he believes that's the one thing he can always control no matter what.
For once, Cruz won't have a speed advantage in the fight with Johnson so he's going to have to make up for that with footwork, technique and by utilizing his height and slight reach advantage. Every time Johnson tries to dart in, Cruz needs to slip to the sides and pepper him in the face with punches.
The key for Cruz will be to come in at angles against Johnson and try not to give him the same look twice. He also needs to keep Johnson honest by mixing in takedowns every once in a while so his opponent doesn't get comfortable. Even if he's unsuccessful, it could at least force Johnson to respect the possibility of being put on his back and back off a bit.
Record: 9-1 overall, 2-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: Brad Pickett (WEC 48)
How he got here:"Mighty Mouse" carried an impressive string of five straight wins on the regional circuit to earn a WEC debut against top bantamweight Brad Pickett in the promotion's first and only pay-per-view event. The AMC Pankration fighter lost a spirited decision to "One Punch" but then proceeded to reel off two consecutive victories in just a few short months against top 15 ranked bantamweights Nick Pace and Damacio Page
He would meet Japanese legend Norifuni "Kid" Yamamoto in his UFC debut this past February and completely outworked the dynamic striker/wrestler over the course of three rounds.
Never one to turn down an opportunity, Johnson stepped up when Brad Pickett dropped out of his UFC 130 bout with Miguel Torres. Despite breaking his leg early in the fight, Johnson gutted through the injury and turned what had been a strong striking performance into a strong grappling performance against the former WEC bantamweight champion and pulled out a unanimous decision victory.
With no other challengers on the horizon, Johnson's victory over Torres was enough to vault him into title-challenger status
How he gets it done: Demetrious Johnson absolutely needs to utilize his tremendous athletic gifts. He will be giving up five inches in height but only two in reach. Getting inside is a top priority in the stand-up, and it won't be easy.
Cruz almost never attacks straight on. He comes in at angles and is constantly moving. Time and time again his opponents choose to sit back and counter which, whole conserving energy, also lets them get repeatedly tagged with punches while not offering much in return.
Johnson should go on the offensive, he's just as fast as Cruz and likely faster. He shouldn't chase Cruz but he should cut him off constantly and get in his face with constant pressure and punches. This is not something "The Dominator" is used to and it could catch him off guard.
"Mighty Mouse" is also a terrific wrestler but it will not be easy putting Cruz on his back as Cruz is also very competent in that department. If Johnson wants to win this fight, he needs to get in Cruz's face and never let him get in a groove. If Cruz gets comfortable with his striking, it could mean a lot of trouble for the AMC Pankration fighter.
Fight "X-Factor:" The X-Factor for this bout, at least to me, is speed. How is Dominick Cruz going to deal with a man who's actually faster than him for once? This will be the first time he's stepped into the cage where his cardio and quickness aren't going to be huge advantages.
Of course he has other weapons like his wrestling, his size and his technique, but it's been his all-around advantages that have helped him make up for his lack of punching power. If he gets frustrated at any point by Johnson's speed, we might see something completely new out of him, or perhaps he's been planning for that already. How he reacts to Johnson's speed will perhaps be what turns the fight either into his favor or against it.
Bottom Line: This is a match-up of two of the quickest fighters in MMA history. Both Cruz and Johnson fight at a high pace, have faith in their hands, have strong wrestling and have gas tanks for days. This bout has the potential to be a flurry of strikes for five straight rounds and the odds that it's not exciting are incredibly low. Ignore the fact that Johnson is a large underdog, he fights like he's got something to prove every time out and this championship bout will be no different. This is going to be a good one.
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