How Dominick Cruz Fights (Breakdown Part 1)

A few years back, many would have written Dominick Cruz’s footwork and approach as awkward and non-sensible because of the basic rules of fighting he often challenges. Fast forward today, the minds of the public opinion  have changed. It’s apparent that as time progressed, more has gone into discussing the intricate strategies behind what Cruz does to change how he is viewed.

I’m here today to provide a breakdown and an even closer look into technical skills Cruz utilizes in his fights. We’ll also be looking into the thought process of Cruz as he actually explains some of the principles behind his approach; I’ll be exploring his principles even deeper. If you’re intrigued by the craft of Cruz or you’re just curious why people talk about his footwork, stick around because this will be for you.

The Stats

At the time of this writing (Jan 3, 2016) Dominick Cruz stats from his UFC record show that his striking defense percentage (The percentage of total strikes avoided ) is at 76% while his takedown defense percentage is at a 83%. His defense percentage is quite impressive. In fact, his striking defense record is higher than any of the top 10 Bantamweights in the UFC.

A lot of this can be attributed to his methodical approach to how he fights. Cruz is a highly evasive fighter who chooses his shots very carefully. In the early stages of his career, he was more known as a boxer but soon shed that tittle after showing he’s versatile in every aspect. In this article, we’re going to look even deeper to see how his skills made those numbers we see today.

The Art of Stick and Move

Dominick Cruz has a high striking defense percentage, but his offensive output is not as high (around 3.40 strikes per minute), especially compared to TJ Dillashaw (around 5.81 strikes per minute average). A reason why his offensive output isn’t as high is because of his tendency to stick-and-move. Cruz is like a sniper who picks and choose his shots carefully then resets to re-plan his next shot. He will string combos time to to time but doesn’t always stay in the pocket too long to give you a chance to return counters.  He keeps the fight on his terms.

cruz in and out comp.gif
Cruz throws a shifting cross to stick and move away at angles

There is a very important aspect to this offensive entry in his stick and move approach. In these cases, Cruz actually utilizes stance switching, using a shifting cross. He does this for defensive purposes. How is it defensive? well, consider this, when you have all your weight on one side, it’s easier for your to move in that direction. In a traditional cross, fighters tend to put a lot of weight on their lead leg. So, here’s the trick, when Cruz throws his cross, his weight is on his lead leg, but since he switches stance mid strike, his lead leg now suddenly becomes the back leg. So now that he has all that weight on the back leg, he can easily move away in that direction away from the opponent. That’s the beauty behind his ability to create defensive angles.

both Cruz and TJ Dillashaw have demonstrated the use of the concept. both guys manage to create a way to retreat 45 degrees backwards in a direction by shifting stance to make it possible.

cruz and TJ similar.gif
Cruz and TJ both stance switching. Now the weight is on the back foot, they can easily move in that angle to evade

It’s an excellent way to stick and move while creating defensive angles.

The Crafty feints of the Domin8r

It’s time to get right into the offensive game of Dominick Cruz. Cruz is very good at utilizing feints to control his opponent. In fact, if you’ve ever followed Cruz’s material, you’ll learn a few things about his own thought processes about fighting. Check out this video where Cruz explains his thought process about using feints to stump the opponent. (If you don’t watch the video, that’s okay, I’m going to go deeper into his principles down below the video). I do believe this video lays down a strong foundation behind the core of his offensive game.

In case the video isn’t embedded correctly, you can follow the direct link to it here: Dominick Cruz Tutorial

What Cruz goes on to explain is that by moving out an steep angle outside of the opponents power hand, you can get them to overextend and see the power hand for a longer duration thereby allowing you to avoid or react to their shots much better. By moving more to one side, it also denies them from using their other hand for striking since they would be forced to re-position in order to hit properly. You can essentially hit an angle outside the power hand while shutting down their other offensive tools. Should they strike with the power hand, you can stuff their power side with your own arm like Cruz demonstrates. For now, since Cruz calls the movement a slide, I’ll be referencing it for the rest of the article as a slide step for clarity.

Cruz goes on to describes one more very important key to using this tactical convention–this can be used to feint and measure their reaction. This works so well because the combination of the angles you hit and your posture ensures that you will be defensively safe should they attack or not.

Lets see this action though. Before we start, I want to introduce another feint that Cruz uses. Cruz uses a few different feints, so I’ll show you two different kinds.

The first feint, Cruz steps forward and lowers his posture using a stepping crouch feint.

Feint Number 1

cruz feinting into escape.gif
Cruz stepping crouch feint but also ready to evade if they advance on his feints.

Here’s a the second feint that Cruz has demonstrated in his video. His slide step.

Feint Number 2

cruz slide step into nothing edited.gif
Cruz using a slide step to feint.

It’s important to note that Cruz is very cautious and can see the shots coming better when he does hit angles with his feint. He’s is always prepared to abandon his feints and quickly evade to reset should his opponent try to throw a simultaneous counter to his feint. You’ll notice in his posture that he rarely ever has much of his weight on the lead foot when feinting so that he’s able to escape moving back if they advance on him.

On occasions, he will feint to bait a counter, then counter back after you miss. Here’s an example.

cruz uses feint to bait sim counter, counters back.gif

Feinting with footwork has become a very important tool in his offense. It can be used for various ways. What Cruz uses feints for is to bait a reaction; he’s looking to see if they will throw a simultaneous counter. As described in his video, when if senses they won’t react to his feint with a counter, he’ll notice that they become stationary or offensively inactive. This is the moment where Cruz will unload his attacks.

Feint Number 1

cruz feints into cross and exit.gif
Cruz using a crouch feints to gauge a reaction. He notices Faber does nothing then advances in on his next attack.
cruz feints ben and see's his hand drop, connects to the chin.gif
Cruz using a crouch feint to gauge a reaction. He reads that Benavidez doesn’t attack and drops his rear hand. Cruz then enters with a lead hook to hit the opening.


crouch feint to gauge a reaction into a dart variation. (link to gif)

when it comes to Cruz’s slide step usage, he actually has a wide variety of of transitions out of that footwork. If you watched his video and study how he fights, you’ll actually start to notice the deceptive nature of his slide feint. When he does it, you won’t quite know what offense he will transition out of it. Here are a list of options he uses out of his slide step. It’s important to note that he can also slide step outside of the opponents weak side as well (outside of their lead foot) as well as slide stepping outside their power side. Here’s a list of just a few options he has for striking off of the slide step (feint number 2):

  1. cruz slide step leg kick comp.gif
    Here Cruz can demonstrates a slide step feint into a awkward kick to either the power side or weak side at an angle.
  2. cruz slide step jab.gif
    Cruz slide steps into a jab.
  3. cruz d'hopping shift offense landed.gif
    Cruz using the slide step to move outside the weak side this time to transition into the power hand.
  4. cruz feint into cross
    Cruz using the slide step variation to move outside the power side but this time to transition into a cross (as demonstrated in his video).
  5. cruze slide step into a kick.gif
    Cruz slide steps towards their weak side and sees no offensive reaction, he then uses next move to transition into a kick.
  6. cruz slide step dart.gif
    Cruz using a slide step feint into a dart.
  7. Cruz doesn’t just use feints for striking, he also likes to mix in his wrestling to keep the opponents guessing.
    1. since we’re on the topic of takedowns, one of his favorite takedowns has been the use of the knee tap.cruz knee tap comp
  8. d

Cruz has spoken about how he baits people into his trap, so another beauty behind feinting is that Cruz can actually use it to literally trap them into a stationary position or cut of their ground. When you feint your opponent, they may react by evading away. After throwing a lot of feints that have no threat, the opponent will begin to become stationary because they feints aren’t doing damage and the opponent is just giving up ground over something that’s not landing. There are at least 3 possible reactions you can get with feints.

  1. It forces them to give ground and eventually they’re forced into the cage
  2. It forces them to stay still to prevent giving up ground
  3. force them to return counters to stop the feints

To add another layer to Cruz’s defensive measure, his use of feinting can actually be used to bait out any attempts of the opponent trying to time a simultaneous counter. This way, he can assure that he can advance inside when knows the opponent wont use a simultaneous counter after reading their reactions off of his feints.

One of the drawback behind Cruz use of feinting to trap and cut off ground is his evasive nature. So although he can effectively cut off ground, his evasive instincts tend to undo that work.

cruz feints to kill ground but gives it back up.gif
Cruz crouch feints making DJ give up ground but Cruz has a natural instinct to evade, which makes him give up ground as well.

Cruz crouch feints making DJ give up ground but Cruz has a natural instinct to evade which makes him give up ground as well.

This evasive nature may not always be the best method for everyone because Cruz tends to cover a tremendous amount of ground. As a result, he has adapted well in his ability to prevent getting trapped against the cage.

This is the end of part 1. Follow this link to part 2:Dominick Cruz breakdown part 2


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