MMA’s little guys take center stage at Saturday night’s UFC Live: Cruz vs. Johnson event in the nation’s capital. Slowly but surely, bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz has established himself as one of the sport’s pound-for pound best. He captured the title in August 2009, when the 135-pounders were still fighting in the WEC’s blue cage, and he’s held it through the transition to UFC and beyond.
Cruz (18-1) has won nine fights in a row and consecutively defeated Urijah Faber, Scott Jorgensen, Joseph Benavidez and Brian Bowles (generally considered the Nos. 2-5 bantamweights in the world), making some wonder how exactly Demetrious Johnson can threaten him.
Around the time, Cruz won the belt, Johnson (9-1) was nowhere near contention. But he rose quickly through the ranks and opened eyes in 2011 by defeating stars Kid Yamamoto and Miguel Torres in back-to-back fights. Cruz remains a massive favorite to hold on to his belt, but Johnson is one of the few fighters in the division with the footwork, wrestling and stamina necessary to keep his pace over five rounds.
Even that may not be enough. He’ll also have to close the distance gap. Cruz has been a master of controlling fights from the outside, then exploding into takedowns. As a result, Johnson has a lot to think about.
Dominick Cruz vs. Demetrious Johnson
Verizon Center, Washington DC - October 1 (TV: Versus, 9 pm)
Johnson is a true underdog story. Ever since turning pro, he has kept his day job, working at a recycling plant in his home state of Washington. Symbolic of his work ethic is the fact that during his recent win over Torres, he suffered a broken leg. Regardless, the next Monday he was back at work at the plant. For this camp against Cruz, though, he’s been focusing only on fighting. We’ll see if the extra time makes a difference.
If there has been one knock on Cruz, it’s been his inability to finish. During his UFC/WEC tenure, he’s never stopped an opponent (a fight with Brian Bowles was ruled a TKO by doctor stoppage as a result of a broken hand).
The UFC Live 6 broadcast, which will air on Versus, marks the first UFC championship fight on basic cable television since 2007, when UFC champ Quinton “Rampage” Jackson unified the light-heavyweight championship by defeating PRIDE kingpin Dan Henderson via decision.
The Long & Short of It
Stefan Struve is 6-foot-11 with an 83-inch reach. Pat Barry is 5-foot-11 with a 74.5-inch reach. From a striking perspective, that kind of math doesn’t add up very well. Barry is going to have to navigate some incredible distance to find Struve’s chin, and he’s basically admitted he’s got to find a way to get inside. Adding an interesting wrinkle to the fight, both Struve and Barry are kickboxing specialists, so there is a lot of pride at stake in this heavyweight bout.
Another Step Forward
It was a twist of fate that put Charlie Brenneman in the limelight, and the Pennsylvanian seized the opportunity by upsetting the surging Rick Story on one day’s notice in June. Now, Brenneman returns against the massive Anthony Johnson, who was last seen wrestling Dan Hardy to a decision. At the time, Johnson said he was doing what he had to do to get a win after a 16-month absence, but he’s much better known for his standup power than being a grinder. Funny enough, “grinder” is a great term for Brenneman, who might cause Johnson to revert back to it one more time. Johnson is favored, but Brenneman is dangerous.
Mac is Back
Mac Danzig hadn’t knocked anyone out in years when he connected with Joe Stevenson last December. Danzig didn’t have the chance to immediately capitalize on the KO though, suffering an injury that has had him out of action since. On Saturday he takes on Matt Wiman, an aggressive fighter who seems comfortable taking the action anywhere.
The fighter riding the longest win streak heading into Saturday isn’t Cruz, it’s Brit Paul Sass, who has gone undefeated in his 11-fight career. Sass, however, hasn’t fought since last October 16, when he won his UFC debut via triangle choke. Shortly afterward, Sass damaged tendons in his foot, and he’s finally back against former Ultimate Fighter competitor Michael Johnson. It will be a tough matchup for Sass, who prefers who has 10 of his 11 wins by submission, because Johnson is a strong wrestler and won’t be easy to drag to the ground.
Mike Easton has never fought in a major organization, and he hasn’t fought in two years. How then, did he get into the UFC? Well, Easton was a relatively well regarded bantamweight on the rise at the time of his last bout, but he has been plagued by an elbow injury that has required multiple surgeries since. But Easton is also from the Washington D.C. area, and may help draw a crowd. He’ll be facing fellow UFC newcomer Byron Bloodworth, so he has a chance to get a win and make a go of it in the big leagues.
One of the fighters on the prelims is Keith Wisniewski, an Indiana-based fighter who fought in the octagon exactly one time before, at UFC 56, which was nearly six years ago. You think it was a long road back for Wisniewski? Check this out. After losing at UFC 56, he lost four more times in a row. A UFC return must have seemed like an impossible dream in the midst of a five-fight losing streak, but since then he’s reeled off six straight victories, most recently defeating former UFC fighter Chris Wilson. Win or lose against Josh Neer on Saturday night, it’s a pretty impressive career comeback.
UFC President Dana White (above) embarrassed after Gray Maynard beat Clay Guida by split decision to win a lightweight bout and the main event of the UFC card in Atlantic City.
Can anyone top the big three of Silva, Jones, and GSP as the best pound-for-pounder fighter?