The clash of styles has finally ended in a bout between Dominick Cruz and T.J. Dillashaw. Our questions going to this fight has finally been answered. Was the sword mightier than the shield? Did the offensive striker overcome the defensive evader? With Dominick Cruz earning a decision win over T.J. Dillashaw, we finally have our answer. Last time, we took a look at various flaws and possible plans that needed to take place in order for fighters to be successful. In this breakdown, we’re going to take a look at how those things mentioned translated into this fight, what actually worked, and how Cruz was successful with his craft.
I recommend reading my previous article to get a clearer idea of some of the points I mentioned last time about their flaws. If you’re not familiar with the term “slide step,” I’d advise checking out the beginning of my article on Dominick Cruz’s fighting style breakdown in part one where I share a video of Cruz describing how the”slide” helps you hit an advantageous angle. (again, if you decide not to refresh, it’s okay, I’ll try my best to keep things clear). Let’s continue.
Dominick Cruz made a bold claim coming into this fight about T.J.’s success, claiming that he’s good against stationary targets. T.J. has never faced an opponent with the defensive abilities of Dominick Cruz before. I mentioned in my last breakdown that the offensive angles you create will become meaningless if the opponent isn’t there for you to make them useful. I mentioned how vitally important it was that the fighters needed to ensure that they can keep the opponent immobilized in range long enough for their angles to work. Here are previous examples of how angles can be rendered useless.
This fight was no different. T.J. often found himself hitting air and missing his shots going on the approach to attack Cruz. There’s two particular offensive approaches T.J. likes using, which are his switch attacks, and his shifting attacks. As suspected, T.J. did indeed try to constantly catch up with the new angles Cruz kept creating as he evaded T.J.’s shots.
If you recall from the previous breakdown, I discussed how there were dangers of T.J.’s approach because of the fact that Cruz is often changing stances. What this does is that it gives Cruz new offensive angles to counter T.J.’s advancements. We saw John Dodson knockout down T.J. from our previous example. We know that T.J. likes to move to the weak side while throwing his shifting cross, but Cruz’s stance switching could easily change his weak side into the power side, thereby giving him advantageous angles to counter T.J.’s new position. In short, Cruz took away T.J.’s angles and landed back at him. This occurred plenty of times throughout the fight. (if you’re still confused about this principle, the previous article goes into better detail about this, if you’re not confused, let’s continue).
At some point of the fight, you could hear T.J.’s coach, Duane Ludwig, telling him to “touch your way in.” As I discussed in my last breakdowns, we explored possible ways for T.J. to get Cruz in range by touching at his hand. let’s look at how he could have benefited from this. This is a particular tactic Conor McGregor uses to find his range on his opponents. By touching at your opponent, you can draw a reaction from your opponent to touch back, essentially making them comfortable with being in range. Here’s an example of Chad Mendes using it on Jose Aldo.
If in the event they decide to evade from the hand touching, they will effectively give up ground, eventually bringing their backs to the cage as you follow up. There’s also the possible chance that the opponent can counter to stop the hand reaching.
In the fight, T.J. didn’t particularly stick to touching his way in as advised. Here is one occasion in the early rounds where he actually did try to gauge the range by reaching. Cruz wasn’t having it and quickly disengaged T.J.’s hand reaching range with his own kicking range.
In Cruz defense, I’m not particularly certain how well hand fighting will work against a fighter who will not allow himself to stay in range for you to attack. After all, we haven’t seen him tested against a fighter who can implement that kind of strategy well.
Subsequently, T.J. went back to his roots of approaching with some of his other natural offensive entries, such as his shifting, switch attack footwork, and other tactics that were more familiar to him.
What Worked for T.J.
T.J. did have some good success landing some shots. As mentioned in the previous article, we discussed how doubling up on strikes and setting up kicks as Cruz slips into kicking range. T.J. was able to capitalize on both these flaws I mentioned previously.
When it came to kicks, T.J. was able to time Cruz’s head movement correctly. One thing that was impressive was how well Cruz’s chin held up. Not only did me move his head directly into the direction of the Kick’s force on numerous occasions, he ate it without getting knocked out.
T.J. actually had some success catching Cruz when doubling up on his shots in various sequences. Just as Dementrious Johnson had demonstrated with his volume, double ups, and non-over-committed shots, his punches we’re able to outwork the rhythm of Cruz’s defensive head movement. The more dependable double striking to use is to chain a jab right after a hook or uppercut. The jab comes out so unexpectedly and so fast, it often throws off the rhythm of the opponent defending it. Opponents typical expect another power shot, so when a jab follows up, it tends to catch opponents. T.J. took a page out of Demetrious’ double striking in the following examples.
T.J. spoke in the post interview about his regrets of not following up on his strikes. We can see that there we’re opportunities for T.J. to double up his strikes and catch Cruz but failed to follow through to break Cruz’s rhythm with it.
Cruz seems to understand that giving up ground can work against him since he’s constantly giving up ground to evade. As a result, his ability to escape the cage is sharp to compensate for this. In this fight, he did a great job escaping the cage. In many cases, he’ll hit a steep angle by moving his head first. Then, T.J. is normally forced to catch up, but in the process, Cruz will unload his offense before T.J.’s feet fully become grounded to attack back.
Cruz will also draws T.J.’s attention to one angle, waits for him to advance in and abruptly changes the direction of his escape.
This is the end of part 1. It only gets better from here as the next following parts, we see some of the creative uses of footwork broken down and we’ll also be taking a look at the thought process of Dominick Cruz’s approach to this fight.
Check out part 2 of 4 here:How Dominick Cruz Won Back the UFC Tittle (techniques) Part 2 of 4