Dominick Cruz is rising in the pound-for-pound ranks. | File Photo: Sherdog.com
For the first time since he invaded the bantamweight division with his flashy footwork, Dominick Cruz was forced to adapt to someone else’s style. The blinding speed of Demetrious Johnson forced his hand.
Still, Cruz cruised to a unanimous decision over “Mighty Mouse” in the UFC Live 6 main event on Saturday at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., as he retained his bantamweight championship and swept the scorecards by 50-45, 49-46 and 50-45 counts. The 26-year-old Tucson, Ariz., native remains unbeaten at 135 pounds.
Cruz largely abandoned the unorthodox lateral movement for which he has become known, choosing instead to force tie-ups and search for takedowns. He grounded Johnson in all five rounds, delivered two textbook belly-to-back suplexes and mounted the challenger on two occasions, nearly submitting him with a rear-naked choke in the third frame.
Now on a 10-fight winning streak, the champion showed a different but no less potent side to his game in victory. That Cruz utilized his peripheral skills to oust another world-class contender does not bode well for the rest of the 135-pound division.
In wake of UFC Live 6, here are half a dozen matches we want to see made:
Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber-Brian Bowles winner: Firmly entrenched in the bantamweight penthouse, Cruz awaits his next challenger. The Alliance MMA ace has nuked the top half of the division, with victories over Johnson, Joseph Benavidez (twice), Urijah Faber, Brian Bowles and Scott Jorgensen. Following his riveting unanimous decision over Faber -- the only man to defeat him -- at UFC 132 in July, a significant segment of the MMA community pined for an immediate rubber match between the two. “The California Kid” can make it a reality if he gets past Bowles, a former champion at 135 pounds, when the two collide at UFC 139 in November.
Demetrious Johnson vs. Faber-Bowles loser: It seems safe to assume Johnson will never find himself in a boring fight. His tools simply lend themselves to excitement. Perhaps best suited for the flyweight division, Johnson has performed admirably at 135 pounds, maximizing his potent blend of speed, skill and fighting spirit. Despite his one-sided defeat to Cruz, his stock only figures to improve from here, as the 25-year-old only recently committed to training full-time. With the UFC expected to unveil its 125-pound division sometime in 2012 -- and make no mistake, Johnson and Benavidez will be the centerpieces -- “Mighty Mouse” will likely have to engage in one or two more bantamweight bouts before setting a course for a new home. The loser of the forthcoming Faber-Bowles showdown at UFC 139 feels like a fit.
Anthony Johnson vs. Rick Story-Martin Kampmann winner: On the cusp of stardom, Johnson has become an absolute brute at 170 pounds. The 27-year-old Dublin, Ga., native dwarfed Charlie Brenneman in the cage and short-circuited the AMA Fight Club representative with suffocating takedown defense and a stiff dose of punches, hammerfists, knees and kicks. Pinned underneath Johnson, Brenneman had no avenue through which to achieve victory. His outing came to a close at the end of a Johnson head kick, and though referee Mario Yamasaki’s decision to halt the bout was likely premature, a finish seemed all but inevitable. In the past, Johnson has proven vulnerable to high-class wrestlers and submission grapplers, and he will need to put those doubts to rest before he makes a move of real significance in the welterweight division. Story will face Kampmann in a pivotal 170-pound clash at UFC 139 next month. “Rumble” belongs in the cage with the winner.
Stefan Struve vs. Cheick Kongo-Matt Mitrione winner: Struve choked the one-dimensional Pat Barry into submission and has quietly compiled a 6-3 mark inside the UFC. The talented Dutcham has a lot going for him: a 6-foot-11 frame, youth, proven submission skills and the capacity to absorb punishment. His otherworldly length, coupled with his ability to fight effectively from his back, make him a problematic proposition for plenty of the men who populate the still-shallow heavyweight division. Kongo, the chiseled French kickboxer, and Mitrione, “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 10 alum, will duke it out at UFC 137 in three weeks at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Struve might want to keep an eye on that one.
Charlie Brenneman vs. Mike Pierce: Sometimes, a fighter finds himself outgunned. Such was the case for Brenneman in his first-round technical knockout loss to Johnson. Brenneman, who has posted nine wins in his last 11 outings, burst on the scene on short notice at UFC Live 4 in June, when he upset the surging Rick Story in a near-flawless performance. The defeat to Johnson may not have cast a complete shadow over that victory, but it certainly left some lingering doubts as to whether or not Brenneman was armed well enough to compete with the welterweight division’s upper echelon. Pierce has fallen into a similar position following his split decision loss to Johny Hendricks at UFC 133. A matchup between Brenneman and the former Sportfight champion makes a lot of sense, as the UFC marches towards 2012.
Matt Wiman vs. T.J. Grant: Wiman will never dazzle anyone with one particular skill, but “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 5 alum competes with a special fervor and passion. His three-round trench war with Mac Danzig -- which he won by unanimous decision -- was equal parts beautiful and violent. Short elbows from the clinch were his most effective and trusted weapons, along with brief spurts of ground-and-pound. The impact was evident on Danzig’s bloodied and swollen face. Wiman, an ultra-aggressive well-rounded competitor, rarely goes away quietly; it took a highlight-reel flying knee from Spencer Fisher to finish him. Grant, meanwhile, was brilliant in his move to the lightweight division, as he outwrestled and out-grappled three-time NCAA All-American Shane Roller before finishing him with a third-round armbar. Wiman, who has never been submitted, could provide some interesting challenges for the ground-based Canadian. Make it happen.