Dominick Cruz vs Urijah Faber 3: Understanding Dominick Cruz’s fighting style and footwork (Part 1 0f 3)

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Every time Dominick Cruz enters the Octagon to fight, he always seems to mesmerize viewers with his craft. It’s a hypnotizing spectacle you can’t help but question. It makes you wonder what he’s doing, why it’s working and what’s the purpose. Over the course of a 5 round fight, there’s so much information to digest and plenty of technical brilliance to sink in.

Cruz is known as one of the fighters today who challenge the normal conventions of what’s usually done in MMA. And for the most part, he’s found success with his approach. Some of his technique and execution may seem questionable, but let us not forget this is MMA. Takedowns, clinching, the layout of the cage, and all the dynamics encompassed in MMA forces a fighter to build a craft specific to these settings. In its own right, the stand-up in MMA is a unique discipline deserving of its own recognition. Taking a look at Dominick Cruz’s techniques and movement patterns allows us to see why.

The Jab

Aside from being a fighter, Dominick Cruz also does an excellent job as an analyst. You can tell that his breakdowns are strongly derived from the success of his own experience. Following his analytical work can be instrumental in understanding MMA, but most importantly, his perspective gives valuable insight into understanding his own fighting style as a whole.

Here, we look at the jab. Using the jab in conjunction with lateral movement optimizes your defensive abilities against striking and takedown attempts. As Cruz mentions (I roughly paraphrase), by moving laterally, you’re constantly adjusting your hips and you won’t be directly in front of them in the event you need to defend the takedown. Alternatively, by moving laterally with the jab, your head is always dynamically moving away, denying the opponent a static target to strike. Against Faber, Cruz used this to the fullest potential.

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steps forward with a jab, and hop steps laterally. 

Note Cruz pivots his rear leg laterally first and follows up with the lead foot afterwards, actively adjusting his position to never be directly in front of Faber. As a result, he ends up adjusting his hips laterally far off to the side.

Give me a moment to dissect this technique to look at a few layers of defense in this simple execution.

  1. Cruz has his Jab high, with the shoulder protecting the chin from shots from his left side (circled in green).
  2. Cruz is moving laterally which will cause linear strikes to pass by as he moves to the side.
  3. His hips are no longer positioned directly in front of Faber for extra defensive positioning.
  4. His guard is down on his right side, but he’s moving away from Faber’s left hand. Even if it were to land, the force would be mitigated due to Cruz already moving in the same direction that hook’s trajectory would follow. See that the green arrows moves in the same circular trajectory of the red arrow. If you want a physics explanation why it reduces the impact force, see my little physics breakdown or just skip it.

cruz lateral jab image breakdown.png

He used the lateral jab several times to effectively tag Faber throughout the fight. His lateral jab is further accentuated by the use of his long reach, making it even more difficult for Faber to penetrate the execution of his movement.

cruz lateral jab comp.gif

Cruz slides the rear foot over laterally during the execution to hop over even further to a new position. An opponent looking to shoot forward or throw strikes down his center-line will surely have trouble.

You may not see this in boxing as often because of limited space and the fact that the needs to re-position yourself from takedowns/grappling threats aren’t present in the boxing or kickboxing landscape.

Understanding The Slide Step

I’ve talked about this particular technique extensively in the past breakdowns. In case you’re a new reader or need a reminder, Dominick Cruz uses a “slide” (a term Dominick Cruz calls it) to hit advantageous angles and to measure the opponent. Here’s a brief description below.

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The Slide Step. Cruz appears to slide off at an angle.

The slide step is used as a tool against the opponent to gauge their reaction. It lets him hit an angle laterally from the pocket where he hits a distance that lets him react to shots better. The lateral movement also lets him hit a more defensive position since he’ll no longer be directly in the pocket where it’s easier to get hit. Sometimes he’ll reach his arm out to intercept shots.

Here’s his personal tutorial on the slide step if you’re looking for more information (I covered the basic concept of it if you wish to skip the video for now).

Cruz will regularly use the slide step to feint the opponent and works off of what they give him. Look at these two possible strategies Cruz will implement if they react or if they don’t react to the slide step.

If they don’t react to the slide step

 If the opponent does not react to your feint, it’s a good indication to attack. This allows you to exploit an opponent who has become complacent in a stationary and inactive mindset. You see, after a while, the threat of feints start to lose their appeal if nothing follows them. As a result, opponent’s stop reacting to them. Cruz exploits this by attacking the very moment they become complacent. See this next example:

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Cruz slide steps to measure Faber’s reaction. He sees that Faber becomes inactive and becomes stationary. He uses that time moment to go to the body just as Faber’s shot just misses his head.

Also note that Cruz’s usage of slide stepping onto both sides starts to funnel Faber in a linear direction back towards the cage. See the image below, indicated in red are the areas Cruz cuts off by slide stepping as Faber is forced back in the direction indicated in the green arrow.

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If they do react to the slide step

If Cruz reads that they’ll try to time a counter on his advancement, Cruz will retreat. He effectively uses the slide step to bait out the opponent’s offense, and then punishes them with his own counters.


cruz slide steps to bait, retreating stance, jab comp.gif
Cruz slide steps to bait Faber forward, retreats into a different stance, then punishes him with lateral jabs.

Note Cruz slide steps and retreats back, effectively avoiding a dangerous range, while switching his stance to deny them any use of advantageous angles (more on this soon).

Now that I have you acquainted with the slide step and lateral jab, you can see how he combines the two techniques into a masterful display of bait/trap and punish, all while maintaining defensively sound positioning.

Cruz has a variety of other offensive transitions out of the slide step which I’ve already covered a few breakdowns ago, so you’re welcomed to go back and check it out in my earlier writings about it .

Weight on the Back Foot

One of the most important aspects of the slide step is his weight distribution. A notable habit from Cruz is that he constantly keeps his weight on the back foot and his lead foot ready to push away throughout various uses of different footwork. By doing this, he’s able to move in the direction away from the opponent more effectively while pushing off the posted lead leg. He’s rarely over-committed with his weight on his lead leg, allowing him to make quick last-minute adjustments to escape.

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weight on the back foot, ready to push off and pivot away at angles.

Even after a failed strike, Cruz is always ready to retreat by putting the weight on the back foot. cruz misses shot, retreats on back foot.gif

It’s a bit faster to move the head first instead of the body and head as a whole because you’re moving the body in smaller increments (the upper body first, then the lower body), so it’s common to see his head move as the body follows afterwards.

On to part 2, we take a look at the advantages of Dominick Cruz’s stance switching and other offensive tactics. Go Here:



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