In their first encounter, Urijah Faber caught Dominick Cruz in a guillotine choke. | Photo: Dave Mandel
Revenge on his mind, Dominick Cruz is confident he will keep his UFC bantamweight title, besting rival Urijah Faber in the UFC 132 headliner on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The bout will serve as a rematch of their 2007 encounter at 145 pounds, which Faber won via submission.
In the co-main event, Brazilian legend Wanderlei Silva takes on Chris Leben in what seems to be a can’t-miss fight. Also on the main draw, former light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz squares off with “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 8 winner Ryan Bader.
Let us take a closer look at the card.
UFC Bantamweight Championship
Dominick Cruz (17-1, 0-0 UFC) vs. Urijah Faber (25-4, 1-0 UFC)
The Matchup: If he were a light heavyweight, people would be talking about the dawn of the “Cruz era.” Alas, he is not, which means he will just have to keep stringing together dominating performances -- exactly what Cruz seems wired to do. With a vexing standup style that is one of the most technical and baffling in the game, Cruz blends in movement, feints and creative combinations to constantly keep opponents guessing. Backed with solid takedown defense, wrestling and stamina, he is MMA’s version of Phil Niekro, a baffling knuckleballer who leaves people guessing and embarrassed.
The bantamweight boss has his hands full in this rematch with Faber, the former featherweight champion who submitted him in a title bout in 2007. Both fighters have improved since then, with Faber dropping down to 135 pounds. The battle of tactics, the ebb and flow of the action and where the fight takes place will define this rematch, with Cruz looking to get into his standup groove and Faber trying to score effectively on the feet before imposing the takedown-and-blast-’em style that has been one of the game’s best in recent years.
If there is any clue to beating Cruz in his one-sided performances lately, it is that opponents cannot give him room to move forward and should forget about headhunting, at least early in the bout. Cruz is virtually impossible to time when given two steps to move in and uncork strikes. Faber will be well-served to aim low with counter kicks and punch at Cruz’s chest -- essentially disrupting his centerline and balance -- when the champion approaches. It is also paramount that Faber cut off the cage, instead of following Cruz; that will help him initiate clinches.
It is doubtful Cruz has the power to stop Faber, and “The California Kid” is one of the game’s best at escaping bad positions on the ground. Still, it will also be extremely difficult for him to catch Cruz; while Faber’s drop to 135 has yielded two wins, this is an extremely tough opponent for him given the style matchup.
While Faber was not as overpowering as some thought would be in outpointing Eddie Wineland at UFC 128 in March, his strength advantage and durability give him more room to make mistakes than most Cruz foes, which are usually bottled up after a round or two and cannot seem to find him. Creating scrambles and fighting in close will be to Faber’s advantage, and his quickness on the feet will have to translate into effective counters, enough to keep from being badly outpointed. Over five rounds, Faber has an exceptionally difficult task in front of him, but if he can back up Cruz and force him against the cage, he brings the fight into his world. Cruz has proven an outstanding wrestler and great at popping back to his feet, so Faber will have to score multiple takedowns to win this rematch. He also has to slow down Cruz with leg kicks early, in an attempt to suck the champion into a dog-eat-dog fight.
This is a great fight and a wonderful way to define the top level of the UFC’s bantamweight division. Expect a highly tactical game of cat and mouse in the early rounds, with Cruz landing more as Faber finds his range and presses the action. At the end of the day, Faber may well be too strong for Cruz, especially in clinches and from top position.
This could also be a difficult fight to score. Cruz’s two decision wins over Joseph Benavidez were technically fascinating affairs, but, at times, they seemed so fast and fluid that they could not really get into a mutual groove and were instead relegated to scrambling, punching and getting out of the way, often all at the same time.
The Pick: Faber will absorb punishment early but eventually suck Cruz down into a cardio-intensive, grappling-heavy fight over the final half of it, taking a late knockout to win the title in a grueling affair. However, if he stands around and waits for the perfect counter, he is going to get picked apart and taken down off Cruz’s patented move -- a brilliantly timed knee-tap maneuver that he hits with shocking precision. Faber will have just enough to pull it out here, in what should be a classic fight.
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