The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to the TD Garden in Boston on Sunday, as T.J. Dillashaw defends his bantamweight title against former champion Dominick Cruz in the main event. In the co-headliner, Roufusport star Anthony Pettis squares off with two-time Bellator MMA champion Eddie Alvarez in a pivotal battle at 155 pounds.
Meanwhile, a heavyweight clash pitting Travis Browne against Matt Mitrione and a lightweight tilt pairing “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 9 winner Ross Pearson with Francisco Trinaldo fills out the main card. Welterweight veterans Patrick Cote and Ben Saunders will lock horns to highlight the undercard, along with a showdown between flashy lightweight strikers Paul Felder and Daron Cruickshank.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC Fight Night “Dillashaw vs. Cruz” matchup, with odds, analysis and picks:
UFC Bantamweight ChampionshipT.J. Dillashaw (12-2) vs Dominick Cruz (20-1)
THE MATCHUP: Much of the discussion regarding this fight has centered on the footwork and striking of the two fighters. Dillashaw is seen by many as the inheritor of Cruz’s style, as well as his throne. The feeling among Cruz supporters is that “The Dominator” will return to teach Dillashaw a thing or two about the style he created.
In truth, Dillashaw and Cruz are vastly different fighters. Where Dillashaw is a striker through and through, Cruz has always been more of a wrestler, his oddball boxing augmenting his grappling rather than the other way around. Cruz uses his awkward, idiosyncratic footwork to cut angles, which he capitalizes on with long, leaping punches and kicks. The moment his opponent begins to think about those strikes, Cruz hits the same angles and turns them into wrestling opportunities, snatching quick singles, doubles and knee taps, a la Frankie Edgar.
Cruz does strike, of course, but his focus is more defensive than Dillashaw’s. Where Dillashaw seems to be willing to take one to give one, Cruz is always more concerned with avoiding damage. He throws his punches halfheartedly or angles away even as he connects, redirecting his force before it has a chance to penetrate the target. It could be argued that Cruz is less efficient, but the former champ has always had stupendous stamina despite huffing and puffing by first round’s end in nearly every fight.
Dillashaw is an entirely more offensive-minded creature. This is not to say that he ignores defense. On the contrary, he avoids damage very well and rarely sticks around long enough to take a clean shot. His angles, however, are more likely to create further opportunities for offense. Whereas Cruz dances away to plan his next entry, Dillashaw takes a short step to the side and attacks from a new angle. Where Cruz jumps in and away with single shots, Dillashaw touches and feints his way into the pocket and then unleashes hard punches, bringing up heavy kicks as his opponent moves away.
THE ODDS: Dillashaw (-145), Cruz (+125)
THE PICK: This is an extremely challenging fight to pick because both Dillashaw and Cruz have utterly unique styles; neither man has faced a fighter comparable to the one before him now. Dillashaw has never been taken down in a fight, but he has not faced a wrestler like Cruz, and we do not know how he will react to an opponent who will, in all likelihood, be content to hold him down for extended periods. Then again, we do not know how Cruz deals with a striker as potent and well-schooled as Dillashaw. Cruz’s last title defense came against Demetrious Johnson in 2011, and though Johnson was not the fighter he is today, he was nonetheless fast, mobile and aggressive, very much like Dillashaw. Cruz struggled with the striking exchanges in that fight, outmuscling and outwrestling the smaller man to cinch the win. That same strategy seems unlikely to work against Dillashaw, who will also do more damage than “Mighty Mouse” could ever hope to in the same exchanges. There are a million unknowable factors, but logic dictates that Dillashaw should be favored. He retains his title by unanimous decision.
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