UFC Fight Night 81 features the biggest fight in UFC bantamweight history, as current UFC Bantamweight Champion T.J. Dillashaw defends his belt against former champ Dominick Cruz. Cruz will attempt to regain the belt that he was forced to vacate in 2014 after a litany of injuries. Dillashaw, meanwhile, looks to defend his belt for the third time since winning the title twenty month ago. T.J. Dillashaw (12-2 MMA, 8-2 UFC, -145 favorite) Dillashaw shocked the word in May of 2014 when he defeat bantamweight champion Renan Barao. Barao was as a massive favorite going the fight and nobody gave Dillashaw a chance. He certainly proved his critics wrong, as he dominated Barao for five rounds before stopping him with strikes in the fifth. Dillashaw has looked like a completely different fighter in only a few short months since he started working with Duane Ludwig. It was remarkable how quickly he improved over the last five fights. Dillashaw and his coach, Duane Ludwig, have formed a strong relationship and he has become a better fighter for it. Dillashaw and Barao were actually supposed to rematch three months later but Barao had to pull out of the contest and veteran journeyman Joe Soto stepped in. Soto was game, but the fight was not competitive and Dillashaw ended up winning by knockout in the fifth round. The UFC rescheduled a rematch against Barao but that did not get any better for the Brazilian, as he was stopped early in the fourth round this time. The 29-year old Dillashaw started out as a wrestler for California State Fullerton, which is where Urijah Faber found him. His wresting translated well to mixed martial arts because he can use scoop doubles against the cage, as well as run the pipe for single-leg attacks. He also has good trips and throws in the clinch. From top position he is always looking to pass and has an arsenal of submissions at his disposal, especially his guillotine and rear-naked choke. Speaking of his rear-naked choke, Dillashaw has a knack for taking his opponent’s back. Although he is much more of a striker these days, he can always fall back to his grappling if he needs to. It seems like Dillashaw tuned into an elite striker overnight. He constantly switches stances in the middle of combinations, and uses feints, angles, and movements to keep his opponents guessing. From an orthodox stance, he has a massive overhand right, as well a crisp jab and head kicks. From a southpaw stance he prefers straight a left, a rear-leg high kick, jab, and a right hook. He blends these combinations together frequently. Further, he constantly switches stances in order to create different angles and mix thing up. Dillashaw’s ability to blend all aspects of mixed martial arts is one of his best qualities. Excellent conditioning is another hallmark of Dillashaw’s game, as he is more than capable of going five plus rounds. Dominick Cruz (20-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC, +125 underdog) Dominick Cruz will be attempting to do something remarkable; win the belt back that he never lost. Cruz had to vacate the title after he was forced to have surgeries on both knees. To make matters worse he did end up returning in September of 2014 and blew right through his opponent in less than two minutes. However, he got hurt again and was forced to undergo another ACL surgery. Now that he is healthy, Cruz will attempt to regain the title he never lost, which is a title he feels still belongs to him. Cruz, the first UFC Bantamweight Champion ever, holds notable wins over Urijah Faber, Demetrious Johnson, Joseph Benavidez (2x), and Brian Bowles. By traditional standards, Cruz’s approach is quite unique. His main discipline is striking, even though he doesn’t have much power in his hands. That could be largely in part because he is constantly moving and cutting angles, which makes it harder to sit down his punches and generate power. Cruz utilizes even more feints and footwork than Dillashaw, which makes him very hard to hit. Additionally, Cruz tends to operate more on the outside than inside the pocket. The Team Alliance Member combines all aspects of the sport as good as any fighter. Further, not to completely rely on his striking, Cruz also has high-level MMA wrestling. He has a brilliantly timed double leg and he can also hit trips, throws, and single-legs. Additionally, his movement and footwork are excellent. However, his movement tends to slow down later in the fight. As far as offensive submissions go, he is not much of a threat, but his submission defensive is solid. Final Thoughts This should be a very interesting fight, one that I am very much looking forward to. The big question here is what version of Dominick Cruz shows up. He has had multiple surgeries and a torn groin. That is a big issue for a fighter that relies on speed, footwork, and cutting angles. Dillashaw, on the other hand, is effective when he is able to exchange blows with his opponent in the pocket. However, that is not Cruz’s game. He prefers to operate at range, dart in with strikes, and then get back outside again. Cruz is not going to play Dillashaw’s game, he is a very cerebral fighter and he does not mind partaking in a boring fight as long as he wins. I would be a lot more comfortable picking Cruz, but I have doubts about how his body will hold up. Further, Dillashaw has been far more active, packs a harder punch, and can likely match Cruz’s speed. Prediction: T.J. Dillashaw defeats Dominick Cruz by unanimous decision
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