I must admit, I may be a bit biased, having lived in Phoenix for over twenty years now, but I am rooting for the hometown hero, aka the ‘Master of Cringe’, bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo (15-2) to lose on Saturday night in Jacksonville, Florida at UFC 249. Only because I love rooting for the underdog so much. It may have to do with Dominick Cruz’s overall persona, he is just easier to like. Stepping in as a replacement for José Aldo, who is restricted from traveling to the United States due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Cruz (22-2) hasn’t set foot in the Octagon since December 30th. 2016 at UFC 207 when he lost a unanimous decision and his title to Cody ‘No Love’ Garbrandt.
I am intrigued to see how Cruz’s unique style and methodical movement can stand up to Cejudo’s superior athleticism and wrestling. It seems Cejudo is vulnerable in round-one while he probes for range. Looking back at Cejudo’s flyweight championship fight against T.J. Dillashaw may provide a blueprint for the Olympic champion to retain his title in spectacular fashion. Dillashaw is the only other fighter in the UFC with a similar style to Cruz, and Cejudo was able to close the distance quickly ending the fight with strikes at thirty-two seconds of the first round.
Dillashaw may be able to dance like Cruz, but he can’t take a shot like him. Cruz has never been stopped in his professional career. His only other loss coming to Urijah Faber back at WEC 26 via guillotine in 2007.
We know both fighters are in amazing shape. Will Cruz prove to be a hard target to hit? Can he manage the distance and chop away at Cejudo’s legs like Marlon Moraes was able to do in the first round of their title fight? If Cruz proves hard to hit will Cejudo look for the takedown? How will Cruz’s wrestling shape up against the 2008 Bejing Olympic gold medalist? I really like Cruz’s chances if he can keep the fighting standing.
Ones things for sure, Cejudo and his cornermen are deft at making in fight adjustments between rounds and dealing with early adversity. From a “drop foot” against Demetrious Johnson when he won the flyweight title to his last defense of the bantamweight crown where Moraes was able to punish Cejudo’s legs using a variety of inside and outside low kicks. Cejudo came out in round 2 closing the distance achieving the clinch, attacking Moraes with a barrage of flying knees. The pressure was too much for Moraes to handle and he ultimately succumbed to a vicious ground-and-pound attack in round three.
Cruz has to know the pressure is coming at some point. Will the former WEC and UFC bantamweight champion have the same moves we last saw in 2016? Will the 36-year-old show any ring rust despite not believing in the phenomena? Styles make fights goes the old cliché, let’s hope they make this one great!