Cruz Deserves Praise for Unique Style, Not Scorn

UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz

Criticism of brilliant performances a missed opportunity to educate fans

I hate the term “point fighting.”

I don’t think they have any place in this sport or the description of the efforts of fighters like Frankie Edgar or Dominick Cruz. It carries a negative connotation and detracts from what they do inside the cage, diminishing their accomplishments as if they count less than the wins accumulated by other fighters.

With our sport still in its adolescence, giving casual observers and MMA neophytes the impression that even the experts have a negative opinion of technically brilliant performances paints the wrong picture. It says that we too crave only wild brawls devoid of skill and that decisions are to be loathed.

Even the awards that are handed out at the end of the night overlook these outstanding efforts. The choice knockout and submission of the night are rewarded, and Fight of the Night usually falls into one of two categories: either the sloppy brawl or the back-and-forth tug of war.

But what about the guy who pitches a shutout? Where is their reward for delivering a dominant performance?

More often than naught, those fighters feel the wrath of critics demanding more; more action, more brutality, more near misses. Any approach that doesn’t involve taking undue risks is skewered, regarded as boring, short on entertainment, or out of touch with the spirit of the sport and the desires of the fans.

Edgar twice beat the man many hold as the greatest lightweight of all-time, yet his performances were heavily scrutinized because he stuck to a strategy that maximized his chances of winning while minimizing his own risk. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the right formula to follow in a sport where another competitor is trying to punch you in the face and “anything can happen.”

This weekend at UFC 132, bantamweight champion Cruz faces his nemesis Urijah Faber, looking to avenge the only loss of his career and retain his title at the same time.

Cruz is the poster child for “point fighting,” darting in and out, a blur of constant motion, landing strikes and avoiding damage for as long as the fight lasts.

The trouble is that too many people see Cruz’s style and approach as a negative, chiding the champion for choosing to “dance” and “run” instead of standing in the pocket and taking punishment that is by no means necessary. What’s more confusing is that while the champion is put under the microscope for performances that border on perfection, his opponents escape questioning entirely.

When did the onus fall on a fighter like Cruz to allow Scott Jorgensen the opportunity to take him down or land a big right hand? While Cruz did everything he needed to do to win the fight, Jorgensen came up short throughout, yet it was Cruz who came under fire.

As experts and analyst we send mixed messages; the organizations do as well.

We encourage fighters to deliver excitement in the cage and give the audience the spectacle that they came to see, while picking apart victories that fall short of those expectations. But at the end of the day, winning is paramount to everything, the only real way to stay on the big stage and remain relevant at the highest level.

Try as you might, there is no way to argue against that fact.

No one writes about the fighter who lost three out of four in thrilling fashion, nor are they retained on the roster because they always give the fans what they’re after.

While we plead for Cruz to engage more and criticize Edgar’s two victories over B.J. Penn as prime examples of “point fighting” in a derisive tone, there are no rallies being held or editorials being written asking for Jorge Gurgel’s hasty return to the UFC lightweight ranks.

Keith Jardine’s release from the UFC was unfortunate, but understandable, since he had dropped four consecutive fights. It didn’t matter that two of those bouts earned “The Dean of Mean” a Fight of the Night bonus or that he was beaten by a quartet of quality light heavyweights.

Despite being consistently exciting, neither Gurgel or Jardine won enough to remain on the UFC roster.

To make matters worse, winning alone doesn’t allow a fighter to escape criticism.

Not only does a fighter have to win, they have to win the right way or else it is somehow less of an achievement. That’s the message we put out there when the performances of champions like Cruz and Edgar are flogged for somehow falling short of this non-existent standard of entertainment.

There’s a double standard at play too.

When Anderson Silva made like Neo dodging bullets against Forrest Griffin, everyone marveled at his ability to connect without getting clipped himself. Cruz does that for five rounds against Jorgensen and he’s panned.

How’s that work?

Just because Cruz didn’t put Jorgensen away with a back-pedaling jab, somehow his ability to avoid damage is less impressive than Silva’s?

If you asked either the lightweight or bantamweight champ, both would tell you without hesitation that they’re eager to finish fights, but unwilling to do so at any cost. The aim is to win, and if a finish can be found, both will willingly take it, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to put themselves in harm’s way just to maybe get that opportunity.

And why should they?

Chance are if they take a chance and it backfires, they’re going to end up taking another beating from some of the media for making a stupid mistake.

We need to change our approach at times when it comes to covering these elite athletes.

Instead of creating flaws in a brilliant performance, why not expound on the impressive footwork Cruz displays? New fans are never going to come to appreciate such a performance if the people they turn to for guidance are busy tearing it apart themselves.

We’ll never develop a more knowledgeable fan base if elite wrestlers are always described as boring, stick-and-move marksmanship is derided as a lesser form of fighting, and dominant decision victories are panned while flash knockouts are held in high regard.

Fans will continue to boo and hiss the second a fight hits the floor, shout for separations as soon as a clinch is engaged, and everyone on press row will continue to speak ill of them, even though we’re partially to blame for their lack of understanding and appreciation.

We have the opportunity to educate fans about the finer points of this sport; the intricacies of the ground game, and just how impressive it is to break another man’s orbital bone with nothing more than a steady diet of jabs.

Unfortunately, we’re squandering that chance by tearing down dominant performances because they lack concussive conclusions.

Rather than chastising Edgar or Cruz for executing their game plans perfectly and having their hands raised at the end of the night, how about praising their performances?

If anyone should come under fire, shouldn’t it be the fighter who was on the wrong end of a one-sided beating? Stop singing the praises of the fighter who showed heart and earned a moral victory for surviving a lopsided beating while prodding his opponent for not finding a way to finish. Don’t dog the wrestler who sticks to his bread and butter and hits takedown after takedown; get after his opponent who couldn’t sprawl to save his life or get up when he was stuck on his back.

And please – please – stop using the term point fighting and treating victories by fighters like Edgar and Cruz as if they’re the scourge of all things sacred in this sport. At the very least, if you’re going to ask them for more, give them their due first.

They’ve earned it, whether you’d like to admit it or not.