How Dominick Cruz Fights (Breakdown Part 2)

This is part 2 of Dominick Cruz’s Style breakdown. If you missed part 1, go here: How Dominick Cruz Fights part 1

The Ringcraft of His Jab

If you ever studied Cruz before, you’ll notice he uses an Ali-esque style of a stick-and-move jab quite often. Cruz uses his range well against opponents with lesser range with this offense approach. The way he moves with his jab actually is a contributor to his takedown defense. Let me explain, you see, Cruz has spoken before about the Daniel Cormier vs Alexander Gustafsson fight and offered his own assessment of what Gustafsson needs to do to avoid the take down.

Alex can move forward with that jab as long as he lines up that lead leg up with the right leg of Cormier. When he does that, it lands the uppercut right up the middle for Daniel, and if Daniel decides to shoot, Alex has got an angle still so he’s not directly in front of Daniel. He’s naturally lined up, so any time D.C. puts his head down, he’s lined up for a power uppercut, and any time he decides to shoot, he can cut the angle.” –Dominick Cruz

Cruz mentions that it’s important to watch out for his foot positioning (adjusting your lead leg to your opponents rear leg in an assumed orthodox vs orthodox match up). Essentially, using lateral movement with striking is important because when you move laterally as you strike, it re-positions the hips to help stuff the takedowns. As Cruz mentions, you wont be directly in front of them.

Lets see this principle in action. Cruz has a tendency to move his feet over laterally while throwing his jab, often kicking his rear leg laterally over while the other foot follows over sequentially.

cruz moving jab with takedown stuff concept.gif
Lateral moving jab allows movement of the hips to be in better position of takedown attempts, never directly in front of DJ.

Cruz and The Classic Boxers

Dominick Cruz has spoken a lot about how his craft has been inspired a lot by many classic boxers like Ali and Willie Pep. Cruz did his homework and found ways to adapt what was used in boxing and effectively incorporate it into the MMA landscape. Lets take a look at a few of the similar tricks you might see between Pep and Cruz.

  • The stick and move trick (another stance shifting escape habit of Cruz) Cruz stance switches and moves into the opponents weak side where it’s safer.
    • cruz pep shifting cross.gif
      Note that here they use stance shifting mid attack to shift the real leg out laterally so they can escape in in a different angle
  • Abrupt direction change
    • cruz pep direction change.gif
      Cruz using direction change with striking. feinting with movement to escape.
  • Stance switch evades
    • cruz pep stance switch.gif
  • Slide step jab
    • cruz pep slide step.gif

Cruz’s Defensive nature

Now we discuss defense. First, before we start, put yourself into this scenario–you’re in a fight, and the opponent strikes you; what defense will you use to minimize damage?

Well, there are quite a few options you can choose from. You can wall to block the strike, you can possible shoulder roll to deflect the strikes, you can parry to also deflect the strikes, you can slip, you can even nullify their attacks with a clinch. With many of these options, they all tend to place you in the pocket where you can absorb damage.

with blocking, you’re forced to absorb damage and risk the opponent going for takedowns or clinches. Shoulder roll makes you too linear and open to leg kicks. Slips work but your body and legs are still in jeopardy. Now, what Cruz does is that he evades completely. He has a strong tendency to choose evasive angular movement, even combining it with his slipping and pivoting to move his body.

cruz evade comp.gif
Regardless of the Attack, leg kicks or punches, Cruz is not there to take damage.

The beauty behind movement is that using evasive movement allows you to defend against virtually every kind of attack, strikes or takedowns. In short, the opponent can not hit what’s not there. However, like every defensive choice you choose, there’s always some drawback. With Cruz, because he’s moving away, he’s generally not in range to return counters unless the opponent carelessly moves into the pocket to follow up.

Not only does Cruz evade but he’s widely known for his stance switching. He stance switches while evading. What this does is that it completely changes the dynamic of the positioning as the opponent approaches with their offense. (In case readers aren’t aware of the weak side and power side; Cruz refers to the weak side as the position outside of the opponents lead foot, where many of the offensive tools are limited. The power side refers to the side where the opponent has the most offensive tools to harm you, the side where you can fire off the cross and kicks straight from the stance). By switching stances, he’s able to hit a new angle where his power side and weak side are instantly switched. Cruz effectively changes the dynamic of what you can use against him while also hitting angles where it’s hard to hit him. It’s very common to see opponents graze pass Cruz as he dynamically stance switches. Here’s an example of his pivot stance switch, often accompanied with slips.

cruz pivot stance switch comp 2.gif
His opponents misses and passes by while approaching as Cruz suddenly switches stance. They’re not in his power side.

stance switching in conjunction with pivoting to create a defensive steep angle denies them proper offensive positioning whilst defending their offensive approach.

A contributor to why his offensive output isn’t as high–his defensive nature allows for versatile protection at the cost at effective positioning to counter unless the opponent rushes in. One particular habit Cruz shows is that he likes to mix in his lead hook while switching stances in the event they carelessly rush in.

cruz evading lead hook comp.gif
Cruz utilizing evasive stance switching in conjunction with simultaneous lead hook counters

If you ever watched Cruz, you’ll notice he does like to slip, but how does he even get away with it without eating kicks or knees? Well, for one instance, when Cruz slips, he makes good use of moving to the opponents weak side. Generally speaking, opponents, don’t use roundhouse kicks from their weak side, which is why Cruz can get away with slipping outside of the weak side.

cruz slips outside roudhouse kick range.gif
Cruz slips his head down towards Faber’s weak side (outside Faber’s lead leg)

It is worthy of mention that Cruz may have a problem against someone who mixes in stance switching with kicks Like TJ Dillashaw can do.

TJ kick.gif
TJ incorporates stance switching with kicks

when Cruz does slip towards the power side, he does have a strong tendency to move his head very laterally to the side rather towards the trajectory of where kick usually come compared to a traditional slip in boxing. This isn’t a perfect solution against kicks, but Cruz has so far been able to control the distancing of where his head is placed and gauge the reaction of his opponents.

cruz power side slip comp.gif
Slipping the head very laterally to the side

Cruz and Punching Power?

Conor McGregor has mentioned in a recent interview that “Power is an illusion.” What can that possibly mean? It can have various interpretations, but you view it like this; There are two parts to power you can consider. First, the force is generated is what comes from you and the second part is that it also comes from your opponent. Power can be situational. Cruz is pretty big for the weight class. According to physics, his mass coupled with his explosive ability to generate good velocity should give him a decent amount of force behind his punches for that weight class. However, the thing is that Cruz is very situational with what he throws, often throwing when opponents are not advancing in—that one sniper shot he tends to choose when they’re stationary after baiting them to stay still with feints.  This mean he doesn’t always have the added momentum of the opponent moving in to combine the overall impact of force.

Force is greater when the momentum of two different objects travel in the opposite direction towards each other. Conor’s natural counter style takes advantage of using his opponent’s momentum against them, just like in his recent knockout of Jose Aldo. If you’re interested in seeing where Cruz seeming to hit more forcefully, I’d advise checking out his fight with Brian Bowles. It could be often observed that Cruz would use Bowles own momentum against by landing powerful shots as he moved forward.

It’s worth mentioning too that since he’s always stance switching during some of his offensive approaches, he’s not always grounding his body for harder punches.There is no right or wrong approach to how someone chooses to fight; it’s okay if Cruz sacrifices a little power because he makes up for it by providing himself better defensive positioning which he discussed in his recent interview. At 13:45 he mentions the following:

You gotta give and take sometimes… the movement, the fluidity; sometimes it takes away from your power. You know, setting your feet and sitting down on your punches, but then I’m taking less damage than anyone else in the division.

Indeed, his stats on his striking defense don’t lie either.

 Direct link in case the video embed didn’t work: Dominick Cruz interview

Wrap-up Summary of Cruz

Dominick Cruz is an excellent fighter who challenges the normal conventions of how fighting is done but he’s brought adaptations of different striking arts well into an MMA setting.

  • Reasons for his defense percentage.
    • Creates defensive angles to escape when going on his sniper-like attacks (stick and move) .
    • Doesn’t stay in the pocket too long to absorb returned counters.
    • Feints a lot to bait out simultaneous counters, thereby reducing the amount of damage he takes going on the offense. Always prepared to abandon feints to evade counters .
    • Very evasive, often switch stances and denying the opponent proper offensive angles.
  • He’s a stick and move artist
  • Utilizes feints heavily for offensive entries.
  • Constantly uses stance switching and angle changing to manipulate the dynamics of positional advantages.
  • He does have a tendency to drop his hand (I will discuss that in a later piece in his match up against TJ)

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