The Time Has Come To Give Dominick Cruz His Due

Bantamweight champion on par with St-Pierre and Silva

On a couple difference occasions during Saturday night’s UFC on Versus 6 broadcast, Joe Rogan mentioned a “long list of challengers” waiting to take on UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz.

Maybe Rogan knows something I don’t. Because from where I’m sitting, Cruz has cleaned out the top tier competition in the 135-pound ranks.

His victory over Demetrious Johnson gave him a victories over the current top five challengers in the division, a set that includes a pair of wins over the second-best bantamweight in the world, Joseph Benavidez. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Cruz has accomplished the feat in just 26 months.

No other UFC champion can say the same right now.

For both Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva, former challengers have either slid down the rankings or were pushed into title bouts prematurely, something that hasn’t happened with the crop of contenders the bantamweight champion has dispatched over the last two years.

The other thing that separates Cruz from his contemporaries right now is the success his former opponents have had outside of fighting for the belt.

Since Cruz won the belt from Brian Bowles at WEC 47 in March 2010, the current top five contenders — Benavidez, Bowles, Urijah Faber, Johnson, and Scott Jorgensen — are a combined 16-1 in the bantamweight division, excluding their respective losses to the current champion; Johnson lost to Brad Pickett in his WEC debut a month after Cruz won the title.

Everyone who has fought since facing Cruz have yet to lose, though that streak will come to an end when Bowles and Faber meet at UFC 139. Of course, those two will be battling for a chance to once again battle the champion.

Those kind of results crush the accomplishments of the last five men to face Georges St-Pierre for the welterweight title; that group is 3-6-1 in the welterweight ranks (5-8-1 overall) following their championship encounters with St-Pierre.

Anderson Silva’s last five title challengers have posted a 3-2 record in the UFC since facing the champion, although Yushin Okami and Chael Sonnen have yet to fight. That being said, one of those men — Thales Leites — has been bounced from the organization, as has the challenger that preceded him, Patrick Cote. The one before that — Dan Henderson — was only recently welcomed back, albeit in a different division.

Rethinking your opinion of the bantamweight champion yet? You should be, especially in the wake of Saturday night’s performance.

Cruz’s victory over Johnson was an atypical outing for the bantamweight champ.

He wasn’t the faster man in the cage, and he couldn’t rely on his frenetic movement and stick-and-move striking to pick-and-pop his way to a decision victory. While the end results looks the same as each of his three previous performances, this unanimous decision was different.

Cruz changed game plans early, recognizing that Johnson was too fast and too aggressive for his slip-and-rip style to be effective. Instead of boxing and footwork, Cruz shifted to grappling and being the bigger man, and it worked like a charm. While Johnson had little flashes throughout the fight, he simply couldn’t prevent Cruz from taking him down or overcome his size advantage once they hit the canvas.

That kind of on-the-fly adaptability is a rare trait, and the ability to make the switch in the opening moments of a championship fight is even more impressive.

Cruz executed a pair of beautiful German suplexes on Johnson on Saturday night; not one — two. When Jon Jones did the same to Stephan Bonnar at UFC 94, people went bonkers; Cruz does it to Johnson and all everyone wants to lament the fact that the champion once again had his hand raised after a reading of the scorecards or his lack of recognition and/or drawing power.

Here’s an idea: instead of trying to figure out why so many MMA fans would rather watch a sluggish heavyweight brawl than a technically precise, frenetic bantamweight title fight or why Cruz hasn’t connected with a larger audience, give said audience a reason to watch him next time out.

Cruz is one of the very best fighters in the sport today, a proven, dominant champion who has achieved as much as his more famous, popular, and revered contemporaries over the last two years, and more than some of the newer title holders.

The only way fans are going to start recognizing and appreciating that fact is for those that know it to be true to do the same.

Like Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva, Dominick Cruz is a dominant UFC champion who has systematically and decisively cleaned out his division. He’s won 10 consecutive fights, avenged the only loss of his career, and has done it all with a style that is unique, and never yields a boring fight.

Cruz is one of the greats, and deserves to be recognized as such.

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