Post-Fight Thoughts: Henry Cejudo -vs- Dominick Cruz
I didn't do a Pre-Fight Thoughts for this match-up because I didn't have a whole lot of interest in it. The fight was a last-minute replacement, after Jose Aldo withdrew from UFC 249's original date and opted to remain in Brazil. Dominick Cruz, who had not competed since before Donald Trump was sworn into office in 2017, was thrust into a title fight with very little notice, under the conditions of a global pandemic, and coming off another serious knee surgery. None of those are ideal circumstances for a fighter to compete for a title under on their own, let alone in combination.
For all his deficiences as a trash-talker, Henry Cejudo is an elite-level athlete and I expected him to steamroll Cruz. I scored Cejudo's fight with Demetrious Johnson for the now-former champ, but you can't deny that he made the fight incredibly competitive. Cejudo followed that up by completely destroying TJ Dillashaw and then masterfully dismantled Marlon Moraes. Conversely, I didn't expect Cruz — or his very unique, unorthodox movement — to age well.
I ended up being entirely correct about this one, as Cruz looked like he was trying to make his style work in a sport that changes dramatically from year-to-year. In all honesty, it wasn't that great of a style, even if it was incredibly effective in the times and places it was implemented. Cruz's footwork is a case of quantity in favour of quality, and that's why he ran into a brick wall with Cody Garbrandt. Cody's kind of an idiot, but he was able to use better boxing fundamentals and superior athleticism to defeat Cruz for the bantamweight title. Cejudo, a former flyweight, was going to be way too fast and has serious boxing chops, and that was pretty much the story of the fight.
Cejudo was able to ignore Cruz's half-dozen feints per-minute, feint a punch and then land chopping low kicks. Cruz couldn't get any offence strung together and didn't have enough sting on his punches to get Cejudo's respect. By the end of the first round, I knew this wasn't going to the score cards. Lo-and-behold, it took almost the entirety of the second round, but Cejudo was able to put Cruz away with a kick feint that he switched to a knee, and sent him reeling to the cavnas. Cruz tried to stand back up but Cejudo pounced on him bludgeoned him with a flurry of follow-up shots.
Cruz immediately disputed the stoppage but I don't see much room to argue. I can understand that emotions and adrenaline can play a role in fighters' immediate reactions to referee intervention, but Cruz doubled down at the post-fight presser and accused[#] Keith Peterson of smelling like alcohol and cigarettes. That's a significant claim, and I hope it's addressed; a statement like that needs to be followed-up on and cannot be dismissed as idle banter and a case of sour grapes. The stoppage looked correct to me, I don't think there are any grounds to appeal the decision.
In a bizarre twist, it was the winner who ended up announcing their retirement post-fight. At the post-fight press conference, Cejudo clariried that he intention to retire was serious but that he would, obviously, come back for the right price. I will give him credit for being honest about what 'retirement' in combat sports really means. His run in the sport has been exceptional, although I think his title accolades look better on paper than in reality, but the fact remains he's a gold medal-winning Olympian and 2-division UFC champion. I think he needed to defend his belt against a proper contender, like Petr Yan, rather than an aged veteran with minimal preparation during a global pandemic, but such is life.
Assuming Cejudo doesn't come back, Cruz will probably try and parlay the 'controversy' of the stoppage into another title shot. Given the UFC may have limited options, due to travel issues and impediments to training, we might see something preposterous like Dominick Cruz / Urijah Faber 4, for the vacant bantamweight title. The right thing to do is wait until they can book Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling for the belt, but I'm not about to delude myself into expecting any meritocratic decisions from UFC matchmakers — especially right now.
The outcome was not a surprise, but I don't think Dominick Cruz is done as a fighter. This was the worst comeback fight, and under the worst circumstances, and I would like to see Cruz fight again with a proper fight camp before I write him off as washed.
Published: May 12th, 2020.