TJ Dillashaw vs Dominick Cruz: The Truth About Their Style Differences and Flaws Part 2

Welcome back to Part2. If you missed part 1, go here: TJ Dillashaw vs Dominick Cruz part 1

More Flaws for Both Fighters

Both fighters are rather light on their feet because they’re constantly moving. It can be rather dangerous for both because you’re never fully grounded to keep yourself stable from kicks. From my experience, I’ve seen smaller fighters throw kicks to sweep heavyweights simply because the bigger fighter was in motion. The same applies to TJ and Cruz. Kicks can become a real threat if they are timed correctly to attack when someone is in motion.

TJ cruz kicked.gif
Cruz’s stance falls apart and TJ becomes a break dancer.

To their credit, these guys are both intelligent fights despite what they might say about each other. Cruz knows to change his defense patterns in order to deal with kicks and so does TJ. Kicks will be a more threatening weapon against Cruz considering his long history of knee injuries.

TJ adapts to kicks2.gif
TJ recognizes kick patterns and starts to bait them out with feints seconds later.
cruz adapts to leg kicks
Cruz gets kicked and soon changes to evasive movement avoids them seconds later.

If kicks to the leg are gong to be used, we well be seeing a tactical set up in order for them to land.

TJ’s Possible Opening When Darting

There’s one particular aspect of the dart Soto was able to take advantage of. This points to a potential flaw that Cruz can capitalize on if TJ’s dart get’s sloppy. TJ has a tendency to hit an angle towards the opponent’s power side using the dart. The issue with moving to the power side is that you are exposed to kicks and the punches that can come in that direction. Soto used a simultaneous right counter to hit TJ as he was throwing the dart. TJ needs to keep his hand up when throwing this.

soto counters TJ's dart
TJ darts to the power side and gets wobbled when Soto threw his overhand

when it comes to the angles that TJ and Cruz are constantly trying to create, there’s one specific factor that needs to happen for the angles to work. First, when you create angles, those angles will be meaningful and useful as long as the opponent is in the range so that you can work your offense on them. If the opponent isn’t there, the angle you create will have little use. TJ and Cruz have both had moments of their angles completely rendered useless by the opponent not being there.

crus misses slide step.gif
Cruz attempts to use a slide step to hit an angle to no avail.
TJ misses footwork appraoches comp.gif
TJ misses his switch strike and dart when the opponent keeps evasive.

How The Hell Do I keep Them Still?

It’s no doubt that both TJ and Cruz are very evasive. For either of these fighters to impose the craft of their footwork, it’s vitally important that they can ensure they can either cut off their ground to trap them on the cage, or to ensure they stay stationary. Anything they can do to keep their opponent’s stationary for a moment will make their angles useful. The problem is that neither like to stay stationary so how are they going to get their opponents to stay still? How will they trap them where they want them?

How Cruz May Trap TJ

We know from my previous articles on Cruz and TJ that they have a few tools ready to deal with this obstacle. For Cruz, he likes to feint a lot. As a reminder, what feint can do is that it can draw a few important reactions. Here’s a quick reminder of what feints can be used for.

  • It can be used to baits them to attack you.
  • It can be used to make the opponent give up ground to retreat as a result of avoiding the feint.
  • It can force them to stay still after knowing that their feints are making them give up space for over attacks that aren’t connecting.

Cruz will certainly use try to use his feints in his upcoming fight. It’s very possible he may use it to try and trap TJ where he wants him. Feinting is one of the core staples in Cruz’s stand up game.

How TJ May Trap Cruz

As far as TJ is concerned, he’s got quite a few nice options to pressure opponents and to cut them off. TJ uses a lot of lateral movement and has the ability to cut off the cage with it. Not only that, he can strike while doing it. As his coach Duane Ludwig has mentioned when talking about people fighting Cruz, he says the following:

“…people aren’t bringing their feet with them while they strike, something T.J. is very good at.

You can bet that TJ can strike in move in ways that many other of the fighters in the division have not implemented on Cruz yet. One of the reasons why TJ can continue his striking after throwing a dart is because of his ability to bring his feet with him as he strikes.

Not to mention, TJ has shown that he has the ability to play the hand fighting game from what I covered in the last breakdown about his style. Now, how does hand fighting work again? To refresh, like Conor McGregor, you can reach your hand out to control their hands, thus rendering them from using it to punch back. Since hand fighting allows you to be well balanced, you have the luxury of retreating should they try to counter you. In the process of hand fighting, there are a few things that can happen:

  • They will let you control their hand posture, which is not ideal because the guard will be pulled apart, exposing the head for strikes.
  • They will engage in hand fighting back to keep you at bay, thus effectively keeping them in range.
  • They move away to avoid the hand fight and eventually get cut off towards the cage where they will become stationary momentarily.

TJ definitely has the ability to hand fight, but we’ve never seen him use it predominantly as an integral part of his pressure game the way Conor McGregor uses it. (There’s more in-depth information about hand fighting in my McGregor style breakdown if you’re not familiar with the concept).

Lets not forget that TJ has rather nice Muay Thai kicking technique. His kicks can certainly be used to trap Cruz where he wants him. TJ could potentially sweep him while he moves or force him still to check kicks. It’s most likely for Cruz to fully evade kicks than to check them from the habits he has shown though.

The other way he has shown to keep fighters stationary is with volume. He can flurry with punches that come in a manner that focuses on volume that hits different rhythms. He can occupy the guard and essentually keep the locked in defense mode. Not to mention it will it can also be used as a method to outwork the extraneous movement of slipping with this type of striking. At this moment though, it’s really up to speculation as far as what TJ will use to keep Cruz where he wants him.

The Holes In Cruz’s Game

There are a lot of textbook fighting rules Cruz has no problem blatantly violating. His craft lets him get away with a lot of it but lets look at instances where he has been trumped on the feet.

You might have already noticed this but Cruz slips and bends his waist a lot while evading. I mentioned it before in my breakdown with him. It may be a problem against a switch striker like TJ. Although Cruz hits angles where it’s generally safe to place the head, the dynamic nature of a switch striker can easily open up those angles up.

cruz slips outside roudhouse kick range
Cruz slips to the opponent’s weak side where kicks don’t generally come from.
TJ kick
TJ sneaks in a switch strike to throw a kick from his weak side.

For TJ landing this or setting it up will require some solid tactical planning because neither of these fighters are easy to manipulate. Landing may require timing the kick or setting it up with feints. It’s also worth mentioning that TJ could also adapt the use of throwing the roundhouse off the lead leg the same way Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson throws it.

Potential Opportunity For Cruz

This can work the same way around for Cruz as well. TJ likes to move his head to the weak side often when approaching, placing his head outside the lead foot of his opponent. Since Cruz constantly switches stance, he can actually open up angles for him to connect to TJ’s head. This is definitely one thing Cruz could use to great advantages, but he doesn’t seem take advantage of his power side after creating new angles from stance switching. In Muay Thai, this can be demonstrated in the following example:

muay thai switching stance into kicks.gif
The fighter in black switches stance and attacks at a new angle, effectively switching his weak side to become the power side.

For Cruz to be more aggressively effective, it could be a good idea to use more offensive attacks to catch his weak side in conjunction with his stance switching.

How the Mighty Mouse Bested the Domin8r

Against Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson, Johnson was able to pull off some good movements that proved to be successful against landing on Cruz and keeping him stationary. Mighty Mouse might have arguably the most difficult challenge so far. In his fight with Mighty Mouse, his corner mentioned the following:

don’t load up wit your shots. I want you to throw fast and lose, and then when he gets tired, then I want you to load up.”

There’s some aspect to that advice that proved to be effective–the pressure of fluid fast volume actually was useful to throw off the defensive rhythm of Cruz’s movement. One of the drawbacks to Cruz’s evasive style is that he’s constantly giving up ground. He gives up enough to the point where he can get backed into the cage. In his defense, he’s also rather good at transitioning away from the cage to compensate.

Mighty Mouse used a combination of fast fluid punches while using the art of doubling up. Like I mentioned before in the breakdown of TJ, I showed many examples of him using doubling up strikes to kill the rhythm of his opponent. Like I mentioned before, volume and rhythm killing combos like doubling up keeps the opponent locked in defense mode. Lets look at an example of this in action.

Dj double up comp.gif
DJ effective uses volume, speed and doubling up on his strikes to catch Cruz and occupy him in his defense. He uses it to cut him off into the cage.

 Not to mention, Cruz does have a tendency to drop the hands while moving. Part of that is due to his slipping. Slipping tends to naturally cause the hands to drop. Speed can be a real difficult thing for Cruz to deal with as he may have troubles getting his defensive rhythm thrown off. Mighty Mouse was able to use speed to do this.

Cruz gets caught by DJ after escape shifting.gif
Mighty Mouse speed killed the defensive rhythm of Cruz’s shifting escape. A feat many fighters don’t regularly do.

When it comes to footwork, Mighty Mouse showed very crafty movement to cut off the cage at every step that Cruz took. Very impressive and crafty.

DJ footwork advancement to cut off the cage.gif
Mighty Mouse uses an effective combination of laterally footwork and stance changing to constantly cut off Cruz into the cage. Cruz gets cut off into the cage.

Recall in the last breakdown I wrote about TJ that he often doubles up on his strike. That can be a helpful tool because doubling up is often a effective way to disrupt one’s defensive rhythm. The constant pressure of punches make work to keep them in that position.

Honorable Mentions

One of Cruz’s go to takedowns is the knee tap. Mighty Mouse effectively did a good job in these sequence by countering it.

DJ counters cruz knee tap.gif
Knee tap counter. Might mouse sinks in a whizzer and sweeps Cruz leg by turning over.

The Wrap-Up Finale

The wrestling question still remains in this fight. Both have a rather high statistic for takedown defense. No one really knows who can actually out-wrestle who until they really get in there. It’s very possible they’re on par with their wrestling capabilities and end up nullifying one another. I would have no doubt we might see some wrestling as well since they’re both good at mixing up striking entries with wrestling.

As you can tell at this point, they may use very similar movements, but they’re used strategically different. Cruz is very meticulous about picking and choosing his shots. He’s more willing to sacrifice offensive output in exchange for better defense. In addition, his defensive tendencies keep him constantly moving in out of proper positions to give him opportunities to fully ground his punches for more power. TJ on the other hand is very pressure oriented. He will constantly apply offense after creating an angle. Since he’s always continuing with his offense, he’s often found grounded in the pocket to allow himself to ground his punches for better force. Keep in mind, TJ puts himself at risk of eating shots staying too long to trade with the opponent.

Yes, they both use similar movements and approaches but that doesn’t mean one copied the other person’s style necessarily. All great fighters have taken elements from other great fighters out there. It’s a very natural occurrence to emulate what works in a fight. Cruz, TJ, and Saenchai have taken elements from Ali but that doesn’t mean they stole his style.

The essence of Cruz and TJ

This is a very interesting match up stylistically speaking. On one end of the scale, you have one fighter who uses angles to evade and heavy depends on the art of feinting as an integral part of his offense. On the other end of the scale, you have a fighter who uses angles in conjunction with lateral footwork to continue a barrage of attacks.

There’s a sense of give and take as Dominick Cruz has put it. You have to sacrifice certain things in order to be better at a certain discipline. One fighters has the stylistic nature designed for great defense. It’s a nature as dependable as the Spartan’s shield. While the other fighter resembles the dangerous threat of a Spartan’s sword.  Both fighters are forged from the excellence of crafty footwork, but divided into different strategic paths of Mixed Martial Arts.

This fight leaves us with a significant question we’re left pondering– Is the sword mightier than the shield? Their stats speak for themselves; their styles are reminiscent of it. The only way we’ll know what prevails is until they fight, January 17.


Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this, please share with your fellow MMA enthusiast. 


One thought on “TJ Dillashaw vs Dominick Cruz: The Truth About Their Style Differences and Flaws Part 2”

  1. Great explanation that brings a lot of clarity to their styles. They’re so fast its hard for me to follow what they’re doing. So this is really helpful man, thanks.


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