Article by Shawn M. Smith of Inside Fights
As the number one pick for Dominick Cruz, Justin Lawrence was already facing a ton of pressure before his first fight in the house was even announced. Yet after dominating his way onto the show, the Missouri native drew the unenviable task of facing Cristiano Marcello, a man who in a very successful career has had more professional losses than Lawrence has had professional bouts.
Marcello has been touted thus far this season as the former Brazilian Jiu Jitsu coach for Chute Boxe Academy. As the most experienced fighter in the house, many fighters would consider it not only an honor, but some level of punishment to be staring at the Brazilian from across the cage. Simply put, he came in with a ridiculously strong pedigree. Heâ€™s blazed a trail in his homeland with his grappling knowledge and with training partners like Anderson Silva, Marcello could be considered by many to have the advantage.
During the weekâ€™s preparation, Team Cruz focused on grappling and takedown defense so that the 34-year old Marcello wouldnâ€™t be taking one of Lawrenceâ€™s limbs home with him.
Team Faber stressed the knockout power of the â€œThe American Kiddâ€ to Marcello. Coach Urijah Faber identified ways to handle the youthful fighter addressing defensive positions, when to shoot and how to manage his raw athleticism, speed and aggression. Throughout training, Faberâ€™s concern centered on Marcelloâ€™s seeming inability to keep his chin down. Maybe that was foreshadowing, maybe it was just used to create drama, but the fight became even more compelling as a result.
At the weigh-in, Marcello and Lawrence got into an intense staredown, nothing that is new to TUF fans. The Ultimate Fighter is built on drama and this battle was no different. Going in to the fight, we knew that this was either a masterstroke by Cruz or sheer luck for Faber. One of them was taking out the other teamâ€™s top guy to start the series. Thatâ€™s unprecedented.
Both fighters came into the Octagon with fervor, ready to bang. The cards were clearly stacked against Lawrence in experience and reach. Early in the first round, Lawrence worked the outside of the cage, moving in and out, testing Marcelloâ€™s range. In the opening minutes, a big right hook barely missed for Lawrence, as did a high left kick. Marcello eventually fired forward like a buzzsaw, but the Americanâ€™s combinations and quick feet kept him out of harmâ€™s way. It was human chess and each man was cautiously taking pieces off the board.
As the first round drew to a close, a push kick put Marcello down, but he was able to pop up easily and fire back with a body kick of his own. With Lawrence continually aiming for the chin of Marcello, it was assumed that weâ€™d eventually see a big shot land. Both fighters threw big kick attempts to end round one, leaving a razor thin call for the judges.
With everything on the line in round two both fighters became more aggressive.
Marcello walked through a punch by Lawrence early, trying for a trademark takedown, but to no avail. Both fighters were swinging hard, but most of their blows were ineffective until a big left from Lawrence dropped Marcello. However, Lawrenceâ€™s respect of Marcelloâ€™s ground game kept him on his feet allowing the Brazilian to recover.
And then it happened. After a big feint Lawrence landed a mammoth left hand and Cristiano Marcello was out on his back, staring at the lights. The foreshadowing of a major weakness of Marcelloâ€™s striking defense from earlier in the episode was his downfall.
Justin Lawrence once again showed why he was the top pick for Coach Cruz and the number 1 pick overall. He proved himself against another experienced fighter in Cristiano Marcello (previously James Krause). It was another major victory for Team Cruz.
If last weekâ€™s pick was the weirdest that Dana White has ever seen, this weekâ€™s pick was pretty straight to the point. In a week where the pranks had finally begun, this wasnâ€™t a mind game so much as a declaration. Myles Jury was selected for the next bout and will fight Al Iaquinta next week. It was a quick, neat call and another smart one pulled out of Cruzâ€™ bag of tricks. Can the Long Island-based fighter defeat a former Team Lesnar pick from two seasons ago? Weâ€™ll have to wait and see.