D. FOX: Rapid-fire reactions to UFC Fight Night 81 “Dillashaw vs. Cruz”

By Dayne Fox, MMATorch Contributor

It wasn’t quite up to par with what Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit provided us with to start the year, but that doesn’t mean that this wasn’t one hell of an awesome fight between T.J. Dillashaw and Dominick Cruz. There is going to be all sorts of controversy with regards to that fight, as well as the Anthony Pettis-Eddie Alvarez fight blowing up the forums, but we might as well just enjoy the moment of Cruz overcoming near-impossible odds to regain the belt that he never lost. Regardless of whether you felt he won or lost, he deserves a lot of credit for the game performance that he put on.

The heavyweight fight between Travis Browne and Matt Mitrione was mostly a disappointment, but the rest of the main card was pretty good, as well as the preliminaries featuring a high number of finishes. There are a few complaints that I have as well, but nothing that I feel was criminal.

Dominick Cruz defeated T.J. Dillashaw via split decision

I’m going to open up by stating that I scored the fight for Dillashaw 48-47. I have no problem with a judge scoring 48-47 for Cruz, but I’m trying to figure out how in the hell Tony Weeks gave Cruz a 49-46 scorecard when Dillashaw absolutely dominated the last two rounds when Cruz’s leg/foot started to give out on him, and his elusiveness was largely gone. The first and third rounds very much could have gone either way, while I felt the only round Cruz took cleanly was the second round. Here’s a quick review:

Both were landing some good shots in the opening round, Dillashaw’s having more oomph behind them. Cruz landed a takedown, but didn’t really do anything with it. I gave it to Cruz. The second round was similar to the first in terms of the striking, though Dillashaw started to abandon his bouncy footwork. Cruz landed two consecutive takedowns as he caught Dillashaw moving forward on the first. He didn’t do much with those either, but I think they were the difference makers in the round. Dillashaw started to sit down on his strikes, and did well to open the round, landing the harder shots and taking control. Cruz may or may not have stolen the round with a late takedown (that he again did nothing with) and a nice flurry, but I felt Dillashaw did enough early to keep the round. The fourth was changed when Dillashaw landed a hard leg kick to Cruz’s left leg that left him limping the rest of the fight (though Cruz claims it was a foot injury he had entering the fight). Cruz did land some strikes in the round, but they didn’t have near the force that Dillashaw’s did. A takedown from Dillashaw absolutely solidified the round for him. The final round was strictly on the feet, and again Cruz landed his share, but they didn’t have nearly as much on them as what Dillashaw had to offer.

Whether I felt he won or lost, my hat is off to Cruz. He overcame a lot to regain his belt. Now I just hope that he can stay healthy enough to defend it. If he did walk into the fight with a foot injury, that doesn’t bode well for his ability to stay healthy enough to defend the belt, by far the biggest concern that I have as we walk away from this fight. How bad would it suck if he can’t stay healthy enough to do so and gets stripped again!? Obviously I hope that doesn’t happen, but you never know. Cruz has a longstanding feud with Urijah Faber that needs to be settled, so I say give Faber one final shot at a belt as his performance has been declining and he won’t be competitive much longer. Do I think he deserves it? No, but he makes sense from a business standpoint and I’d like to see the UFC break the immediate rematch habit it has developed (except in the case of Lawler-Condit… book it!). There isn’t anyone else who is a clear cut candidate to fight for the belt, so let Cruz and Faber have their rubber match.

Dillashaw was clearly heartbroken and has every right to be. When I heard a 49-46 score at the end, I was certain he took the fight and I have to believe he and his corner felt the same way. He isn’t far off from getting the rematch he deserves, but he needs to win one more fight in the process. Raphael Assuncao has won seven in a row in addition to owning a victory over Dillashaw. However, he hasn’t fought in almost 16 months (which is why I wouldn’t give him the next title shot). It’s an easy fight to hype and makes sense as a #1 contender’ bout. If Cruz can stay healthy enough to defend the belt, Dillashaw could get his rematch either before the end of the year or at the beginning of the next year.

Eddie Alvarez defeated Anthony Pettis via split decision

I’ll admit that I didn’t even think about the possibility of Alvarez winning since I didn’t think he would. Not that I didn’t think he could, but Pettis has been an apt student to often learn from his past losses and I fully expected him to do so. It wasn’t the most exciting fight as Alvarez took Pettis to the ground multiple times in the first and third rounds, which had to be the rounds that the judges awarded Alvarez as Pettis worked over Alvarez’s body with his patented kicks over the first two rounds, with the first round no doubt being the round up for grabs. No doubt that the fight was razor thin and could have gone either way, so I’m going to ask in advance that no one state that Pettis was robbed. Fat chance that will happen though…

Alvarez asked for a title fight following the win as he now has wins over Pettis and Gilbert Melendez. But neither fight was a definitive win for him, both going to split decision. He does have just as solid of an argument as anyone, but we’re really gonna have to wait to see what happens with Rafael dos Anjos and Conor McGregor. If McGregor wins, I can guarantee that he will need one more win, likely against Tony Ferguson, as McGregor will need to defend his featherweight belt. Regardless of how he won against Pettis and Melendez, Alvarez has earned the right to be considered one of the top lightweights in the world and can’t be considered a disappointing free agent signing anymore.

Pettis had been talking about getting the next title shot had he won this. He’s gonna have to scrap that talk as at least two and most likely three wins are going to be needed now in the deepest division in the sport. Considering Pettis’ injury history, that could be a long ways away. His last three loses have all come from a high pressure, takedown heavy approach which means he needs to revamp something in his camp as Alvarez isn’t known as a dominant wrestler. Adding Izzy Martinez as a wrestling coach clearly wasn’t enough. I could see Edson Barboza or Michael Johnson being realistic options from here for Pettis’ next opponent.

Travis Browne defeated Matt Mitrione via TKO at 4:09 of the third round

This win for Browne deserves a massive asterisk attached to it. Browne did look better than he did against Andrei Arlovski as he brought out his kicks this time around, but the most damage that he did in the fight was due to eye pokes in the first and second round that likely contributed to Mitrione walking out with the most swollen eye that I have ever seen. Mitrione’s vision was clearly affected from that point forward. Browne pretty much picked him apart from there as Mitrione was clearly having problems judging distance and didn’t land any effective offense from that point after scoring a knockdown in the first round on an off-balance Browne. I can’t say that I was familiar with referee Gary Forman before this fight, but I can already say that I’m not crazy about his referee abilities afterward, as he didn’t offer a point deduction or even stop the fight right away after the blatant second eye poke until Mitrione screamed he was seeing double almost 30 seconds after it happened.

Browne is back on the winning track, but I still have to say that I judge his move to Edmund Tarverdyan from Jackson-Wink to be a step in the wrong direction. The killer instinct that he once possessed is now gone and his strikes don’t seem to have the same oomph that they once possessed. I have a hard time believing that he can be a title contender after believing he was one just one short year ago. Looking at him that way, it is difficult to know how to match him up going forward. He could get Junior dos Santos, the loser of Fabricio Werdum-Cain Velasquez, or Ben Rothwell (if Rothwell beats Josh Barnett). We’ll have to see. Mitrione is now a free agent as he bet on himself and lost. I have no clue what he’s going to do as he could challenge for the heavyweight title in any other organization or even go off to fight Fedor Emelianenko. He’s older than most people think (37), so his ceiling probably isn’t as high as many people think. Like Browne, hard to say what happens from here.

Francisco Trinaldo defeated Ross Pearson via unanimous decision

Anyone else remember Mike Chiesa completely dominating Trinaldo at UFC 173? I thought Trinaldo would be lucky to last two more years at that point as he was already 35. Five wins in a row later and Trinaldo is making a hell of a late career surge. Trinaldo fought a smart fight, timing his counters to an advancing Pearson perfectly, picking his spots to be aggressive wisely, and dominating the fight in the clinch by landing a high volume of knees. Amazingly enough, Pearson never went down, absorbing those monster blows, continuing to fight on living up to his billing as one tough SOB. Being a tough SOB isn’t enough to win fights though….

Trinaldo’s run is a fun story. He only recently started making enough money to start training full-time and the results have been his recent run. One can’t help but think that the run will end sooner rather than later as Trinaldo is now 37. For that reason I’d like to see the UFC book him as much as they can before Father Time begins to win his battle with Trinaldo so we can see how far he goes. With lightweight the deepest division in the sport, there is no shortage of options to get him back in there soon. Pearson continues his recent run of win one, lose one. I don’t think he is going to be improving significantly at this point in his career and that is fine in many ways as he can settle into a role as a gatekeeper similar to Gleison Tibau. Come to think of it, Pearson is one of the few mainstays Tibau has never faced…

Patrick Cote defeated Ben Saunders via TKO at 1:14 of the second round

When the hell did Cote develop any sort of offense out of the guard? I know that isn’t what won him the fight (brutal uppercuts in the clinch did that), but I can’t remember Cote showing any submission offense of any sort – much less out of the guard – before he attempted the armbar in the first round before sweeping Saunders to get the top position. That more than the impressive finish makes me believe that Cote’s revival since moving to welterweight is for real. For someone who made their UFC debut over 11 years ago, this is a hell of a story (similar to Trinaldo) and gives him a winning record in the UFC for the first time. The idea of him getting a fight against a ranked opponent when he made the drop seemed laughable. He may very well have earned the opportunity to fight one. Saunders seemed to be fighting his fight before the armbar attempt and seemed to be thrown out of whack once Cote threw that up. I guess he wasn’t prepared for that. Saunders is young enough (32) that he could regroup and make another run as he has the talent to do just that. Even if he can’t he is a hell of a fun action fighter who will likely pick up at least a few more UFC wins before his MMA career is over.

Ed Herman defeated Tim Boetsch via TKO at 1:39 of the second round

How in the hell does Herman do it? This guy has been hanging around the UFC for 10 years, and it looks like he’ll be hanging around for at least one more year despite his advancing age and declining athleticism, something he never had much of in the first place. After a pretty even first round where they exchanged leg kicks and head shots, Herman got a strong Thai clinch on Boetsch and landed a jumping knee right on the chin to put Boetsch on the ground. A few punches later and the referee was stepping in to call the fight. Herman declared in his post-fight interview that he was staying at light heavyweight. I like the move. He’s undersized, but it’s such a shallow division that I expect he’ll be able to make more noise there than he was at middleweight. I struggle to see Boetsch hanging around. He’s 2-6 in his last eight and it could be argued he is rightfully 1-7. He’s a genuine good dude who I would like to see do well, but he has effectively fought himself out of the UFC at this point.

Chris Wade defeated Mehdi Baghdad via submission at 4:30 of the first round

This was a lot less competitive than I thought it would be. I knew Wade had a sizeable advantage in the wrestling and grappling department, but this was a whitewash. Wade took Baghdad down right off the bat and never let Baghdad fully get his feet underneath him again, landing GNP while looking for submissions. He finally found one as Baghdad tried scrambling to his feet and Wade took his back, eventually flattening him out and getting the RNC. Wade looked really good, better than he has since his UFC debut to move up to 4-0 in the UFC. But he hasn’t faced anyone who I’d call even a mid-tier fighter for the division. This was supposed to be his step up in competition against Mairbek Taisumov before visa issues changed things up. He did what he is supposed to do, but until he gets a win against a quality opponent I’m going to have my doubts about Wade. Baghdad’s stock dropped considerably in my eyes. I thought he’d have his moments on the feet, but it appears his wrestling was worse than I expected. He needs to improve that in a hurry or he’s going to wash out of the UFC quickly.

Luke Sanders defeated Maximo Blanco via submission at 3:38 of the first round

While I’m really not surprised by this turn of events (anything is possible in a Maximo Blanco fight), I will say that I didn’t expect Sanders to pull out the win despite being a quality addition to the bantamweight roster. The thing is, this was a featherweight fight, and I thought Blanco would try to overwhelm the smaller Sanders with his size. Nope. Blanco largely decided to stand and trade with Sanders and was floored not once, but twice off of a Sanders counter, and paid the price the second time as Sanders took his back and secured a RNC. Sanders is another example of the bantamweight division slowly gaining quality depth over the last year or two. It isn’t a guarantee he’ll be a contender, but he should stick around for a number of years. Blanco is the poster boy for inconsistency and this was a perfect example of him giving away a fight he had stacked heavily in his favor. I could be wrong (as predicting any Blanco fight is impossible), but I expect he’s on his way out soon, though he will certainly get another fight.

Paul Felder defeated Daron Cruickshank via submission at 3:56 of the third round

Hats off to both fighters, even if I expect Cruickshank to end up on the outside looking in with his third straight loss and only one win in his last six appearances. His performance here might be enough for him to get the Leonard Garcia treatment, but there are no guarantees. Most picked Felder pretty handily after his impressive performances striking against Edson Barboza and the aforementioned Pearson, only for Cruickshank to get the better of the standup. Cruickshank landed a number of shots that I expected Felder to go to the ground from, if not be KOd cleanly (the side kick in the second round), but Felder was still there. Felder had teased the end of the bout in the first and second rounds with a guillotine in the first and an inverted triangle in the second only for Cruickshank to fight out of each. The RNC in the third did the job after Felder finally took control of the fight, wearing Cruickshank down with some beautiful clinch work.

This was the feature bout of the preliminaries for a reason, and certainly lived up to the hype. Felder had been thrown into the deep end of the pool too soon, but showed why the brass believed, in him as he delivered a potential come-from-behind performance (I scored the first two for Cruickshank). He showed submission abilities he hadn’t shown yet, which should only generate more excitement for his future. I’d like to see him turn in at least one more performance against an action fighter before letting him wander back into the deep end. Anyone else like the idea of him against Abel Trujillo? Very good chance someone would be going to sleep. If Cruickshank is cut, I’d let him know all he needs is one or two victories on the regional scene before bringing him back as he is better than about half of the lightweights on the roster. Or he could end up in Bellator or WSOF. If he sticks around, look for him to get a favorable matchup.

Ilir Latifi defeated Sean O’Connell via KO at 0:30 of the first round

Absolutely nothing surprised me about how this played out. O’Connell has never placed a heavy emphasis on his defense as he has relied heavily on his durability. While Latifi isn’t a noted striker, he might very well be the strongest dude in the UFC. One clean right hand behind the ear was all he needed to have O’Connell’s legs give out from under him, and the ref saved a dazed O’Connell from any further damage. The win was impressive enough that Latifi has earned a shot against a ranked opponent. With a number of those dotting the rankings being older vets who don’t fight very frequently anymore (Shogun Rua, Lil Nog, and Rampage Jackson), he might not get it. This was O’Connell’s opportunity to move past the label of an action fighter and he failed miserably. Given his physical skill set, he has nothing to be ashamed of as he is in an awkward position of being too large to cut to middleweight (at least safely) while too small for extended success at light heavyweight. If nothing else his brawling style is entertaining enough that he should get more leeway than most.

Charles Rosa defeated Kyle Bochniak via unanimous decision

If Bochniak had a full camp to build up his stamina (instead of four days notice), he very well might have been able to pull off the upset. He fought a smart fight by realizing that Rosa is a wiz on the ground and wanted nothing to do with that, keeping the fight standing and landing a number of nice shots, including a counter that put Rosa on the ground in the first round. He is further along than I had thought he would be after five fights, as I expected he would wash out after his second UFC appearance. I’m not so sure of that now. Though Rosa still has plenty of holes in his defense, he utilized an unusual side stance heavy with side kicks which helped keep Bochniak at a distance. It’s possible he could continue to fine tune the approach to make himself an awkward fighter to approach and help him find openings in his takedown attempts as he struggled to finish the attempts he did make. Rosa isn’t going to be a threat to break into the rankings, but he is usually fun dude to watch and should continue to serve in that role for a few more years.

Rob Font defeated Joey Gomez via TKO at 4:13 of the second round

This very much served as a showcase fight for Font, as he did pretty much whatever he wanted in there. Gomez had a few flashes of his athleticism, but was frozen for long stretches of the fight which led to Font hurting him multiple times in the second round and picking up a finish. Font showed off a bit of everything as he threw out kicks, some nice boxing combinations, and even some spinning back elbows. Hell, he even scored some takedowns just to prove he can do it all. I wasn’t sure if he simply exposed a chinny George Roop in his first appearance, I’m sold on him now. I’d like to see how he does against Erik Perez. Gomez received a BIG step up in competition in facing Font and didn’t seem to know what to do. He did show great balance, a nice jab, and threw some combinations that looked good. If only he had shown more aggression…. I’m very curious how he’ll do with a full camp under his belt as he has potential to be an action fighter of note.

Francimar Barroso defeated Elvis Mutapcic via unanimous decision

I’m not sure what I saw in there, but that wasn’t the Elvis Mutapcic that I’m familiar with. Barroso has some good kicks, but Mutapcic paid him way too much respect which allowed the Brazilian to pick his shots. Barroso was the larger and more powerful striker which meant Mutapcic had to throw at a high volume and he didn’t do that, even as Barroso began to slow in the final round when Mutapcic had to go for a finish. Hard to pinpoint what was up with Mutapcic as he normally has no problem throwing volume, but the short notice likely had something to do with it. He’ll drop down to middleweight from here which should result in a better performance his next time out. As for Barroso, the win puts him at 3-1 in the UFC, though none of the victories have been impressive. He might get a chance to fight a ranked opponent (Patrick Cummins could use a rebound opponent), but that isn’t a guarantee either.

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