Dominick Cruz vs. Cody Garbrandt: How Cody Won The Title (Breakdown of Technique part 1 of 3)

cody vs cruz pic.jpg
Photo by Getty Images / Christian Petersen

One of the most interesting performances of the UFC 207 card featured a revealing fight between Dominick Cruz and Cody Garbrandt. For many years, Dominick Cruz had reign undefeated as the Bantamweight champ and bewildered the sport with his unorthodox style, but for the first time in his career since his UFC reign, we saw someone else getting the best of the technical exchange. Cody Garbrandt is relatively new with mostly quick knockout victory to refer to, so going into this fight, there were a lot of questions surrounding how he would solve the mystery of beating Dominick Cruz. After a full five round bout, Cody came out on top, scoring multiple knockdowns and handing Cruz his defeat. This fight told us a lot about these fighters and where they stand, but most importantly, we now have a clearer grasp of what Cody Garbrandt can do.

The Gist of The Fight 

Dominick Cruz is a well-rounded fighter who’s capable of going on the offensive or playing the counter game. Statistical data show that he’s a high pressure fighter  due to his offensive output. His offensive style centers around pressuring opponents with a lot of footwork-based feints. In the fight with Garbrandt, we saw Cruz going on the offensive a lot more than he typically does. Surprisingly, Garbrandt played a more patient approach by waiting for Cruz to lead. This ended up proving detrimental to Cruz down the line because when Cruz went on the offensive, Garbrandt sat back waiting to counter. Multiple times throughout the fight Garbrandt was able to drop Cruz. Today, we examine the technique and look at a few defining moments of how it was all done.

How Did Garbrandt Do It?

As I mentioned earlier, Cruz uses a feint-heavy offensive style to attack the opponent. I’ve been over this quite a few times in past articles, but to quickly review this concept, take a look at Cruz’s slide step.

cruz slide step comp

He often uses a slide-step to hit an angle from the opponent. This lets him feint at the opponent so he can read their reaction and build off of what they give him. The weight he puts on the back leg allows him to quickly retreat.

Here are some offensive examples working off the slide-step:

[slide-step into body shot]

[slide-step into kick]

For many years, Cruz has brilliantly stifled opponents with this approach, but for this one night, it proved to tell a different story! To counter Cruz, an opponent must understand what he’s doing. Garbrandt looked to be on par with Cruz’s intentions that night.

When Cruz looked to initiate a slide-step, Garbrandt worked to undo the offensive angles Cruz created, and as a result, we would often see Garbrandt moving away and switching his stance to adjust to Cruz’s new positions. This prevented Cruz from gaining dominant angles. By controlling the range, this allowed Garbrandt to control the outcome of Cruz’s offensive approach.

cody adjust to angles.gif
Every attempt Cruz tries to slide-step to Cody’s weak side, he adjust his stance to undo Cruz’s offensive angle.

Cruz personally likes to use a slide-step into a cross [Example Here].

Several times during Cruz’s slide-steps, we’d often see Garbrandt stepping out of range to undo Cruz’s offensive footwork, but he didn’t always reset the range though. Garbrandt was happy to sit in range and counter the slide by adjusting his own angle. When Cruz looked to slide step out at an angle, Garbrandt would adjust his angular base in order to open up the proper angle to connect with his counter shots. Check out this next example to see where Cruz tries to slide-step, but Garbrandt adjust his feet in order to land his counter to Cruz’s new angle.

garbrandt counters slidestep arrow breakdown.gif
Garbrandt able to reach new angles after adjusting.

Note Cruz slide-steps to the outside of Garbrandt’s lead foot (his weak-side angle), Garbrandt would move his lead foot out laterally to adjust his angle to Cruz’s new position. Remember that when the opponent moves their lead foot outside of your lead foot, your offensive angles are limited. If you’re not familiar with this concept, this next picture should illustrate what that looks like when someone moves to your weak side.

power side illustration angle
Overeem (black shorts) is currently at an angle where Dos Santos’ offense is limited. If Dos Santos (white shorts) steps his lead foot out laterally, it would widen his “power side range.”

T.J. Dillashaw and Urijah Faber have tried similar countermeasures to adjust their angles, but Garbrandt seemed to have the explosive speed in order to time his shots successfully. Ironically, Cruz managed to undo Dillashaw’s offensive footwork in a similar manner as in their fight.

Garbrandt’s Counter Habit

Garbrandt had a tendency to lower his posture, widen his angular base, and throw his short rear hook counters as he waited for Cruz to move forward. That level change lets him cover attack angles where Cruz could have potentially slipped his head over. you’ll see in the following GIF that Garbrandt was able to catch Cruz’s head slipping over.

garbrandt drop counter.gif

Garbrandt did this multiple times throughout the fight. It made sense to keep his line of attack low where Cruz typically moves his head.

garbrandt drop counter comp.gif
Lowers posture, throws the rear hook.

Your punching range is mechanically linked to the placement of the lead foot since your transferring your weight across it.  So when Garbrandt widens his base, take notice in how his lead foot scoots closer to the opponent. Doing this allows him to extend the range of his powershot. As the lead foot moves closer during the level change, his ability to connect farther extends.Keep in mind that Cruz is quite good at using his reach, so it proved useful that Garbrandt was able to close that range gap in order to connect his shots when necessary.

Since you’re lowering your level on the initial dip, there’s some risk of taking a knee to the head. Any kind of slips or lowering of the head always put you at some kind of risk. Let Jose Aldo’s flying knee knockout on Cub Swanson be a reminder of that. Cruz did attempt one flying knee, but was just mere inches away from connecting on the head. [Cruz flying knee

Continue on the part 2 where we look at what it took to solve the Dominick Cruz puzzle and what aspects of the fight Garbrandt had the edge.

[Part 2]

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