Photo: Dave Mandel
In studying Demetrious Johnsonâ€™s fights, Dominick Cruz noticed one mistake his opponents were making above all others.
â€œThey were letting him go hippity-hop, [run] circles all around them, throw crazy combinations and there was just no control,â€ Cruz told the Sherdog Radio Networkâ€™s â€œSavage Dog Show.â€ â€œThe key to beating a guy like Demetrious is to control him.â€
Thatâ€™s what Cruz did Saturday at UFC Live 6 to earn a unanimous decision over Johnson and retain his bantamweight title. Scores were 50-45, 49-46 and 50-45.
â€œWhen you control him, he becomes sporadic and starts forcing things,â€ Cruz explained. â€œWhen he forces things, he gives up more takedowns. One thing leads to another. That was the game plan, and it worked out.â€
Cruz finished 10 takedowns in the fight, according to FightMetric.com. Wrestling was a point of emphasis in the strategy he developed with trainer Eric Del Fierro.
â€œWe knew [Johnson] was going to come and fight me in the pocket,â€ Cruz said. â€œBy doing so, he gave up a lot more takedowns and I was able to use my strength and size on him a little bit more and just kind of break him and wear him out. I felt him wear down a little bit in the third round. That was the plan.â€
In Cruzâ€™s view, Johnson approached the fight the only way he could.
â€œYou look at somebodyâ€™s style. You look at somebodyâ€™s stature. You look at their build and you know that they have to decide to fight you a certain way,â€ Cruz said. â€œOtherwise they wonâ€™t have a good chance in the fight. We knew how he had to fight me and we prepared for it.â€
Johnson is a small but very quick bantamweight. Cruz expected him to be fast, but he was also impressed with how well Johnson put his strikes together in combinations. Still, Cruz felt that he was able to make Johnson miss more often than not.
â€œThe guyâ€™s a stud, but we knew he was fast,â€ Cruz said. â€œEven when you look back at the fight, he never really tagged me with anything real hard. Everythingâ€™s combinations that heâ€™s throwing and Iâ€™m dodging, and heâ€™s missing at least 80 percent of the punches and kicks that he throws.â€
Cruz is tough to hit as is, but if you canâ€™t stop his takedowns, the game on the feet becomes even more difficult. Johnson never quite figured him out.
â€œIf people are going to stop the takedowns, then Iâ€™m going to light you up on your feet,â€ Cruz said. â€œIf youâ€™re not going to let me fight you the way I want on my feet, then Iâ€™m going to figure out a way to outgrapple you. Thereâ€™s always a way to win and thereâ€™s always a way to piece things together to offset your opponent and make him uncomfortable. Really plain and simple, thatâ€™s the name of the game. Itâ€™s not about fighting a certain way. Itâ€™s about making your opponent uncomfortable and making them never know how youâ€™re going to fight them.â€