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Who is the best trash talker in MMA? If you took a poll on that question, there’s no question who would win it handily. With his bluster, braggadocio and style, Conor McGregor would get the nod. McGregor doesn’t just entertain with his words; he draws lots and lots of money with them. He has the highest profile, and for many, the revenue he generates is the ultimate proof of his verbal supremacy.
Unquestionably, McGregor deserves respect for his microphone arsenal. There’s nothing wrong with arguing he’s the best. However, when it comes to the best pure ability to verbally obliterate an opponent, my money’s not on McGregor. It’s on Dominick Cruz. His beatdown of Cody Garbrandt during the UFC on Fox 22 broadcast on Saturday -- it was not even peak Cruz -- was yet another reminder that when it comes talking trash, “The Dominator” is the pound-for-pound best.
His one-on-one verbal battle with Garbrandt was fairly representative of a typical war of words against Cruz. Garbrandt came out confident, but a few short minutes later, he had to resort to swearing, interrupting and just repeating back Cruz’s lines in order to keep up with the bantamweight champion’s assault on his youth, chin, style and even manners. “Who have you ever beat?” asked Garbrandt. “All your teammates,” Cruz answered without a moment’s hesitation.
The thing about Cruz on the microphone is he’s not just out there to deliver a clever line or make his opponent angry. He’s there to explain to them their weaknesses in detailed fashion and plant every seed of doubt he can in their minds. He’s an attentive student of the game, leaving him with plenty of material to direct at any opponent. Others may have the occasional hot line, but Cruz is always ready with the hot song. The fact that he’s completely convinced he’s telling the truth makes it all the more powerful. The best trash talkers tend to have overwhelming self-belief, and Cruz is as confident -- or cocky, depending on your outlook -- as they come.
The best example of this was in July 2015 on “The MMA Hour,” where Cruz unleashed one of the most memorable extended putdown sessions in the history of the sport against T.J. Dillashaw. In his telling, Dillashaw was a wannabe who patterned his whole style after Cruz. He was the kid who put up a Michael Jordan poster in his room and dreamed of one day being like his hero; only Dillashaw could never beat Cruz because he was trying to replicate a style “The Dominator” had mastered. He framed Dillashaw as a pretender to the throne and then set out to prove it.
Even with only one fight in nearly four years, Cruz’s confidence wasn’t diminished one bit. What was most striking about the whole thing was that Cruz didn’t even come across like he was trying to ridicule Dillashaw; he delivered his message with a matter-of-fact tone that suggested he was just breaking down the facts with his analyst’s cap. The burial of Dillashaw was merely incidental, an unintended consequence of him telling the truth.
Cruz may have been able to pull off an air of indifference when diminishing Dillashaw, but he couldn’t pull it off against his career’s top rival: Urijah Faber. “The California Kid” stood in Cruz’s way from early on in his career, and the animosity between the two lasted for years. It might still exist if Cruz hadn’t won the trilogy fight that provided a psychological resolution that he needed more than Faber.
Cruz’s venom over the course of his career has been directed more at Faber than anyone else, and he has even played a role in sowing dissension among Faber and former Team Alpha Male teammates. At a point when the Alpha Male divide might have been resolved more amicably, Cruz was out there putting forward points as to why each side had good reason to be angry at the other. With Faber the popular star, Cruz was more than happy to play the role of antagonist, and it made for one of the more memorable rivalries in lighter weight MMA history.
That the longstanding rivalry between Cruz and Team Alpha Male continues on through Garbrandt adds even more intrigue to what’s one of the juiciest co-features in years at UFC 207 on Dec. 30. Garbrandt has the opportunity to do in the Octagon what no one can do outside the cage: shut Cruz up. All the prefight hype won’t matter a bit if Garbrandt can touch Cruz’s chin and hand the proud champion the first knockout loss of his career.
At the point Cruz is violently knocked off his perch or his body turns against him again, something will be lost that goes beyond his fights. While Cruz is a superb analyst, breaking down a fight objectively just isn’t the same as picking apart an opponent’s flaws. There are plenty of analysts that can do the former well but few fighters who are anywhere near as good at doing the latter. As for Cruz, he may not be the flashiest or most charismatic, but no one can take out an opponent with words quite so well.