Dominick Cruz, T.J. Dillashaw: Boxing’s Craft and Footwork

(if you are currently reading this article, good for you! I have not publicly published this yet as I’m in the process of adding a few important details. You’re still welcomed to continue reading)

Principles in combat sports are often recycled throughout the course of history. The footwork and strategies used in the cage we see today can typically be traced back through the history of fighters whom came before them. The beauty of MMA today is that these fighters have taken aspects of history and integrated what works into the landscape of a different game.

Today, we look at a few tools from boxers and how some of their craft is integrated into a few fighters who are known for their footwork– Dominick Cruz and T.J. Dillashaw. Some of these fundamentals are slightly altered variations of the sequences, but they share a similar purpose. If you have followed my content before, a lot of these concepts have been discussed in my previous works. I wanted to take this chance to go a little deeper in some of the detail and look at a combination of various footwork sequences. I’ll be briefly sharing a short description of the concepts as we go along as well.

Shifting + lateral escape

The shifting cross. Dominick Cruz has a preference to hit and avoid getting hit back. In the sequence, Cruz throws his cross while simultaneously shifting his rear leg out laterally to let him exit after his attack. This effectively serves as way to stick and move as also demonstrated by Willie Pep, a classic boxer whom Cruz was inspired by.

cruz pep shifting cross

Here’s another demonstration by Bernard Hopkins as well.

cruz and bernard.gif

Slide Step + Jab

In this sequence, Cruz uses a slide step in conjunction with his jab. Note that most of the weight is on the back leg, thus allowing them to escape back in that direction. For simplicity, I refer to this as a slide step based off of what Cruz has referenced this movement as. There a lot more in depth information about this movement breakdown in previous article I wrote for those interested in Dominick’s through process on the “slide.”

Dominick Cruz Style Breakdown (info on the slide step)

cruz pep slide step

Pivoting while throwing the power hand

Here’s a comparison to Roman Gonzalez and Dominick Cruz. In the sequence, both Cruz and Gonzalez remove their lead leg and step their rear foot out laterally to hit a different angle, then landing that power hand shot. The main difference between their usage is that Gonzalez throws the power hand before pivoting the lead foot back. Cruz moves his lead foot back first before landing the power hand.

Either way will work. The way Cruz uses it works as a way to catch his opponent’s closing in, while Gonzalez’s works as a way to land while in the pocket.


cruz and roman.gif

By delaying the power hand sequence as demonstrated by Cruz, it extends the time of your counter shot. Since Cruz isn’t quite in the pocket, he has to delay the time frame of his striking opportunity for the opponent to catch up to his new position. Since Gonzalez is already in the pocket, he doesn’t need to wait for the opponent to move within the proper range and time the shot as Cruz needs to. Additionally, Gonzalez uses this movement to chain off of an offensive combo while Cruz is using it to chain off of a evasive counter. The beauty of combat is that it’s an art–you can be creative in any way you choose to use a technique.

Another big difference is that Cruz covers a lot more space. His footwork variations are slightly different as he as mentioned before in an interview by Luke Thomas, at 5:13, Cruz mentions footwork is changed up a little bit for the sake of takedown awareness, kicks and other elements of the MMA game.

In my previous post fight breakdown of Dominick Cruz vs T.J. Dillashaw, I covered this movement in depth with frame by frame descriptions to show how it works. you can go here to see more info on it (for those interested in using the movement).

Cruz vs T.J. post fight breakdown (part 4, info on the sequence)

Shifting + pivoting hop step

I know, this isn’t Cruz nor T.J. This is Joe Duffy though. In this sequence both Andre Ward and Joe Duffy throws a shifting cross. This lets them shift their lead leg into a squared up stance. From here, they pivot their foot back while simultaneously hop stepping into a new angle further outside the lead leg to force the opponent to turn. This transition is similar to how Cruz used in the previous description. The cross gets the opponent engaged in shelling up their defense, while occupied, Duffy/Ward transition to a new angle to force the opponent to move into their new angle. This gives them a split time window to attack while the opponent is trying to readjust.

duffy and ward 2.gif

Lateral Shifting into Opposite Stance

For this particular movement, I went thoroughly in-depth with how this is done. You can go here for the full breakdown found in part 3 of my previous post fight article of Cruz vs T.J. fight. Cruz vs T.J. part 3 of breakdown (slide stepping).

This particular footwork works well when the opponent goes on the attack. Typically, an opponent moving forward will get bypassed by this abrupt change in angle. Here both Tyson and Cruz change their stance, and hops into a new angle. Since they can hit a new angle first, the opponent will be forced to adjust, meaning Cruz and Tyson will have a split window of time to land a hook as the opponent adjust.

cruz and tyson.gif

Darting + Escape

In this sequence, demonstrated by Roy Jones Jr. and Dominick Cruz, we can see that they’re utilizing shifting with their cross. While throwing their cross, they’re using that momentum to carry their lower body (their rear leg) forward into the opposite stance. What this does is that it allows the foot to his a new position where you can push off of the foot to exit at a new angle. This is another way to stick and move.

cruz and roy.gif

Here’s is a dart variation of Dominick Cruz and Andre Ward. The dart works similarly as a hit and run type of footwork. You get in long enough in the pocket to throw your shot, and you exit the pocket soon after. Here they throw the cross while shifting their rear leg up to square up their stance. This lets them push off to move laterally outwards to exit the pocket.

cruz and ward dart.gif

Smoother the Power Side

I wrote about this more in depth in the T.J. Dillashaw style breakdown, but here, I’ll explain the main point of this. Here, you can see Andre Ward and T.J. smoother the lead hand by controlling the posture of the opponent. This effectively allows you to control their posture, making it hard for them to spring up with their power hand with your weight anchored on them. Additionally, their lead hand is trapped. This gives them a split moment to throw a shot over the top.

TJ and ward smoother.gif


Here’s another example of the shifting cross. I also went in depth with this movement as well. you can see more on the description on my previous breakdown here: T.J. style breakdown (Info on the shifting cross).

As a brief description, you can observe T.J. and Andre Ward shifting their stance while throwing the power hand to hit an angle outside of the opponent’s lead foot.

TJ and ward shift.gif


Shifting + Escape

Here we can observe Nonito Donaire and T.J. Dillashaw utilize shifting to escape at a new angle away. While throwing their power hand, they use that momentum to transfer the lead leg forward into the opposite stance. This lets them push of their lead foot to escape at a an angle 45 degrees back.

TJ and nonito shift escape.gif

To get a better understanding, look at this sequence by sequence breakdown below. T.J.’s right leg follows this L-shaped pattern while shifting. The circle highlights the position of the right foot as it travels along the L-shaped pattern.

  1. TJ escape shift p1.png
    This is the initial path the right leg will take while shifting.
  2. TJ escape shift p2.png
    T.J. throws the cross while the momentum carries the rear leg further down the L-shaped path.
  3. TJ escape shift p3.png
    After the cross has landed, T.J. moves his upper body posture back to avoid a counter and pushes off the right foot to hat that angle backwards.
  4. TJ escape shift p4.png
    The ending sequence where the rear foot pushes T.J. back.


To test if you fully understand the movement, see if you can recognize this movement by Stephen “Wonderbody” Thompson (see the gif first before reading on). ……………………………………………………Here Wonderboy uses the shifting to escape at an angle and then to comes back with another cross at the new angle.

stephen shifting cross esape, come back cross.gif
Stephen throws a cross while shifting his stance, pushes off his right foot into a new angle, comes back with another cross.

Did you like this? If you did, let me know if you’re interested in seeing a kickboxing/Muay Thai version.



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