UFC Fight Night 81: Dillashaw vs. Cruz Date: January 17th, 2016 Location: Boston, Massachusetts Venue: TD Garden Broadcast: Fox Sports 1 UFC Bantamweight Champion TJ Dillashaw A former NCAA Division I wrestler and current Team Alpha Male member, T.J. Dillashaw (12-2) took the MMA world by storm in 2013 when he defeated UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao via fifth-round TKO to capture the title. It was a breakthrough performance by Dillashaw, who was a massive underdog heading into the fight but who now looks like he could be a long-reigning champion for the UFC. For his first title defence, Dillashaw was set to fight Barao in a rematch but after Barao had trouble making weight, Dillashaw instead fought replacement opponent Joe Soto and knocked him out with a head kick, again late in the fight. Dillashaw finally met Barao for the second time in July, and the result was an even more dominant victory that their first encounter. The biggest challenge left for the bantamweight champion is to erase all questions about who the top 135er in the world is, and that comes with the former champion, Dominick Cruz. The bout should serve as the most anticipated bantmaweight bout in UFC history, and fans will be lucky enough to see it on cable instead of PPV. Former UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz Dominick Cruz was long considered the bantamweight kingpin, after rising through the ranks of the WEC in impressive fashion, defeating everyone who stood in his way, including Urijah Faber (avenging his only career loss), Scott Jorgensen, Brian Bowles and Joseph Benavidez. Combat sport purists love watching Cruz’s beautiful footwork and and fantastic boxing, which he combines well with distance-creating kicks, complimented with good takedown skills and BJJ. Cruz was very much considered to be untouchable, even if he was criticized for his lack of finishing fights. After solidifying himself as the UFC’s champion in the new weight class, Cruz scored a decision over current flyweight champion, Demetrious Johnson, back in October 2011. After that, things went downhill for Cruz. While filming TUF against Urijah Faber, Cruz tore his ACL and required multiple surgeries to repair the knee. After spending four days short of three years on the shelf, Cruz returned to action and demolished former title challenger Takeya Mizugaki in 61 seconds. Unfortunately, after the fight he suffered yet another torn ACL, this time to the opposite knee. The rehab has gone smoothly this time around however, and Cruz will finally get a shot to win back the title he never lost against a fighter with a very similar style to himself in TJ Dillashaw. UFC Fight Night 81 Opening Odds Analysis: At 5Dimes Sportsbook, MMA oddsmaker Nick Kalikas opened the current champion Dillashaw a -150 favorite (bet $150 to win $100) over Cruz, who can be had as an underdog for the first time since 2010 at +120 (bet $100 to win $120). This is an incredibly intriguing fight for both men. Dillashaw has, for the most part, faced fighters who move in straight lines and allow him to use the incredible movement and angles he’s honed over the years with Duane Ludwig to dominate. Cruz is the one fighter in the division who can (or could) match Dillashaw’s movement, but will he still have enough spring in his step after tearing both of his ACLs to keep up with the current champ? Cruz has still never lost a fight at 135, but did have competitive contests against Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez during the peak of his title run. The current version of Dillashaw would dominate both of those fighters, and makes me think I should lean ever-so-slightly towards him to retain. However, Cruz put on the most dominant performance of his career in his return from injury, and perhaps his combination of movement, wrestling, and this new-found power will be enough to recapture his title. Given Cruz’ history, I find it hard to picture him losing, and Dillashaw isn’t too far removed from his own competitive bout with Raphael Assuncao and getting rocked by Hugo Viana. It may just be a sign that I haven’t evolved with the division, but if the price gets any longer on Cruz, I may be too tempted to pass on a bet here. The line was originally opened via ESPN and included a quote from Kalikas:
“This is the unofficial title unification bout, with current champion TJ Dillashaw taking on former champ Dominick Cruz, who was never was defeated to lose his belt. When healthy, Cruz is one of the best fighters in the world. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case for most of the last four years. Stylistically, these fighters match up very evenly. Both use unorthodox movement, excellent striking and footwork combined with top level wrestling to control all areas of the fight. That being said, you have to give the slight edge to Dillashaw. Cruz has only fought once in the last four years (although he looked great), and has been hampered by three knee injuries. During that timespan, Dillashaw has fought a whopping 10 times and has displayed more finishing ability and pure punching power over the course of his career.”
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