Dominick Cruz and Joseph Benavidez exchange punches: Dave Mandel | Sherdog.com
Against all odds, WEC has made Wednesday part of the fight night fraternity. A welcome change from spending the night with ancient reruns of “Blossom” and stale French fries. Don’t judge me.
WEC 50 “Cruz vs. Benavidez 2” continues that proud tradition with a lineup that will not only decide the bantamweight title but also set the table for future contenders in every one of the WEC’s buck-wild divisions.
Such stakes require some “Guardians of the Universe”-type knowledge and I’m here to represent Oa -- just don’t ask me for a power ring.
Dominick Cruz vs. Joseph Benavidez
Reigning bantamweight champion Cruz is an altogether unique presence among elite mixed martial artists. A ghost on the feet with funky but technically sound striking and vastly underrated wrestling skills, he outclassed Benavidez the first time around, which means the onus is on Benavidez to bring something new to the table.
Most of Benavidez’s problems in the first fight stemmed from Cruz’s ethereal movement and rangy, high-volume striking style. That approach kept Benavidez fighting at a distance that neutralized his offense. When he did get inside on “The Dominator,” his takedown attempts either got stuffed or reversed with shocking ease on both fronts.
For Benavidez to avoid repeating that fate he has to get after Cruz with single and double legs from the get-go. The problem is that he isn’t that kind of fighter. Instead, he tends to try and establish a rhythm on the feet first and then starts bringing the leg attacks.
Cruz is simply too mobile and accurate on the feet for Benavidez to get anything going against him, and the disparity in reach is something Cruz already exploited to the nth degree in their first bout. If Benavidez does focus on blasting through the pocket, however, there is no guarantee that he’ll get anywhere close to getting Cruz down.
With that said, Benavidez has made serious improvements in his ground-and-pound. He also has that nasty front headlock series that Team Alpha Male is renowned for. If he can find the takedown that eluded him so many times before, this fight takes on a whole different dimension since Cruz’s guard is almost completely unproven.
That’s a really rosy scenario for Benavidez, though. He is still facing a far better striker with absolutely brilliant takedown defense. Toward the end of their first fight, it looked as if Cruz had Benavidez figured out. He was starting to land more liberally and just manhandled him in the clinch for the entirety of the last round. I can’t think of anything Benavidez has added to his game that will keep Cruz from replaying his original game plan with the same results.
Stopping Benavidez is like beating “Contra” on a single life. He is so good at exploding out of bad positions, and Cruz doesn’t have the power to starch elite opposition. However, Cruz had an answer for everything from Benavidez’s takedowns to his vice-grip guillotine choke in their first encounter. Combined with his endless cardio, Cruz has all the mental and physical tools in place to neutralize Benavidez, who will, hopefully, be fighting in the WEC’s eternally delayed flyweight division someday.