UFC 249: INSIDE THE CAGE
Henry Cejudo vs Dominick Cruz
Co-Main Event Breakdown
By Jason Paglia
Every UFC event moving forward, Jason Paglia from ‘The Sports Keg’ will breakdown the main event and co-main event of every UFC fight card. With that said, let’s try to make some f**king money on Saturday night.
It’s been a while since I’ve been able to break down a UFC fight. This pandemic has held the sports world and the world at large hostage, but UFC President Dana White has changed that. While UFC 249 will not go down exactly as it was planned, what is important is that it’s happening. Yes, we were robbed of the super fight we all wanted, and yes there will be no fans in the arena, but it’s happening. For diehard fight fans and the professional gamblers fans in the seats don’t matter.
In an earlier article that I wrote for Pub Sports Radio, I talked about the Travesty of UFC 249. That travesty is this co-main event. Dominick Cruz should not be fighting Henry Cejudo for the bantamweight strap on Saturday night. He is an unranked title challenger that doesn’t deserve to be there. The real fans know that Aljamain Sterling or Petr Yan’s name should be on the marquee in the co-main event on Saturday night. Unfortunately we can only brea down the fights that the UFC gives us, so I’ll stop complaining about what should have been and focus on what they gave us. Let’s do it!
DOMINICK CRUZ (22-2)
Dominick Cruz was the Bantamweight division of the UFC from 2010 – 2016. Unfortunately for Dom, injuries ruined a lot of his prime fighting years. He came up different from a lot of fighters in the UFC. He didn’t have a storied high school or collegiate wrestling career. He wasn’t a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu super kid or anything dominant in any form as a child. He was a mediocre wrestler in high school. After high school he went to college to be a fire fighter. It wasn’t until he took a job as an assistant wrestling coach that he decided he wanted to train and become a professional mixed martial artist.
Cruz began training and in 2005 he made his pro debut for a regional MMA organization named Rage in the Cage. He was talented from the start, and amassed a 9-0 record. He caught the eye of WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting) which was a bigger and more well known promotion and signed immediately. It took Dominick Cruz 6 fights to become the WEC bantamweight champion and he never looked back. He defended his WEC bantam weight championship twice until the WEC was bought by the biggest MMA promotion in the world, Ultimate Fighting Championship. He won the first bantamweight championship in the UFC and defended that title twice successfully. It was at that point in his career around 2012, that off and on injuries ruined the next 4 years.
He had multiple knee surgeries and was forced to relinquish his bantamweight championship. In January of 2016 he came back to get his title back. Cruz put on an absolute clinic against TJ Dillashaw and won via decision. He had his belt back and was ready to put the injuries behind him. At UFC 199 he defended his bantamweight title against Uriah Faber. After successfully defending again he ran into a buzz saw at UFC 207 named Cody Garbrandt. He lost his title via unanimous decision and that was the last time we saw Dominick Cruz inside the cage. UFC 207 on December 16th, 2016. It’s been almost 4 years since Cruz has fought in the Octagon. Since 2016 he has been color commentating next Joe Rogan on UFC telecasts. Can Dominick Cruz shock the world off almost a 4 year layoff and beat Henry Cejudo at UFC 249?
The BEST of Dominick Cruz
STAMINA – Although he hasn’t fought in almost 4 years, one would expect his cardio should not suffer. Most bantamweights have excellent cardio, and when Dom was fighting on a normal schedule he never showed anything but phenomenal stamina. That should be no different on Saturday night.
FOOTWORK – The biggest reason Cruz was on top of the bantamweight world for so many years was his movement in the cage. He might have the most unorthodox movement of any fighter in UFC history. Everything he did well in the cage was built off the foundation of his incredible footwork. His use of range was always excellent. His opponents biggest challenge was timing him in the pocket. He might not be as fast as he used to be on Saturday night, but he should still be fast enough to cause problems early.
STRIKING – Cruz is an excellent striker. His hand speed was always rock solid and what made his combinations so effective were the angles that they came from. Like I stated earlier, the effectiveness of his boxing in and out of the pocket is built off his flawless and unorthodox foot work. What looks like a normal combination isn’t, merely because of the angle that it’s coming from.
The WORST of Dominick Cruz
INACTIVITY – The biggest thing Cruz has against him on Saturday night is the almost 4 year layoff he walks into the cage with. Ring rust is real. It will probably take Cruz multiple rounds until he feels comfortable in the cage again. Everything he is good at in the cage will be slightly slower. He is older and what he is used to doing in the cage will be as less effective as it’s ever been. Father Time is a mother***ker.
BJJ – Cruz has one submission victory in his MMA career. Whether he is a capable jiu jitsu artist in practice doesn’t really matter, it hasn’t translated to the cage all that much, now has it?
HENRY CEJUDO (15-2)
Initially I wasn’t a fan of Henry Cejudo. I thought he was a one trick pony. He was a wrestler that couldn’t do anything else worth a damn in the cage. I was right for a while, but that changed dramatically a few years into his career.
Cejudo grew up using wrestling as an outlet to a pretty turbulent family life. It wasn’t long before all eyes were on Henry Cejudo when he was on the mat. He was a 4 time state wrestling champion in high school. In 2006 Cejudo won the USA Wrestling national freestyle championship while still in high school. He was also named to Wreslting USA’s Magazine Dream Team as a high school senior. Cejudo’s wrestling career culminated at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing where he became the youngest American to become the Olympic Champion in Freestyle Wrestling.
It wasn’t long before Cejudo set his sights on mixed martial arts. In 2013 Cejudo debuted for an Arizona regional promotion named the World Fighting Federation. He knocked at Michael Poe in his MMA debut and amassed a 6-0 record out of the gate. Cejudo caught the eye of UFC President Dana White and signed with UFC shortly after. He made his UFC debut against Dustin Kimura in December of 2014 where he won via decision. Since Joining the UFC, Cejudo is (9-2). After previously losing to (what many considered to be the best MMA fighter on the planet) Demetrious Johnson, Cejudo shocked the world at UFC 227.
In the rematch for the flyweight championship Henry Cejudo was flawless. He beat Johnson by decision that night and never looked back. At UFC 238 Cejudo tried to become the 4th fighter in UFC history to hold two titles simultaneously in two different divisions, and he did just that. He beat Marlon Moraes via TKO in round 3 and the ‘Champ Champ’ was born. On Saturday Cejudo will defend his bantamweight championship belt against Dominick Cruz. Can he continue his momentum and stay atop the mountain he spent the last 6 years climbing?
The Best of Henry Cejudo
Wrestling — He is a 4 time high school state wrestling champion, he was named to the USA Wrestling Dream Team while in high school, and he is the youngest American to win an Olympic gold medal in freestyle wrestling. Do I really need to go on…?
STRIKING – Cejudo’s career hit another level when his striking game entered the same stratosphere as his wrestling game. He is a talented striker. His hand speed is elite, the angles he cuts to get his combinations off is elite, and his use of range is fantastic considering his size.
STAMINA – Cejudo has that Olympic wind. The kind of stamina an average person walking down the street dreams of. If the fight was 15 rounds on Saturday night he could do it while standing on his head.
The WORST of Henry Cejudo
BRAZILIAN JIU JITSU – He has never shown us anything in the cage that makes me think is capable of getting submissions off consistently in the Octagon. His takedown game is strong, his top control game is ok, but when he gets fighters to the ground, his first and last thought is Ground N Pound, not submissions.
THE HYPE TRAIN – What made Henry Cejudo wat he is in the world of mixed martial arts? It was his drive. Nobody thought he could get to the top of the mountain using his wrestling alone. He grinded for years and molded himself into a true elite MMA fighter. Now everyone tells him how good he is every single day. That could make you lazy. That could make you take a day off that you would have spent training 5 years ago. As long ashe stays right in his head, and he takes Cruz as serious as every other fighter he has been in the cage with, he should be fine.
WHO WIN THIS FIGHT?
Can a 35 year old Dominick Cruz who has fought four times in the last 9 years beat a two division champion? Can a fighter off an almost 4 year layoff beat the guy that has looked unbeatable for 3 years? That is the question you have to ask yourself in this fight.
Ring rust is a real thing. Sparring does not simulate a true fighting environment. This is a big ask for Dominick Cruz. The way Henry Cejudo has looked the last few years, I’m not sure the best version of Cruz back in 2011 could beat Henry Cejudo right now. Cruz has one path to victory. His unorthodox movement in the cage has to flow seamlessly into combinations that are cut off of untimed angles. That’s it, that is literally his one and only chance to win this fight. What if he is a half-step slower? What if his hand speed isn’t as fast as it used to be which leads to ineffective combinations? If that happens, he is cooked. DONE.
Henry Cejudo has multiple avenues to win this fight. He can take this fight to the ground and control and frustrate Dom while his back is on the mat. If he chooses not to take him down, he has the tools to bang in the pocket with any bantamweight on the planet. He proved that in the Marlon Moraes fight. Moraes looked like an absolute murderer in the cage against everyone he fought prior to UFC 238. Knocking out everyone that stood in his way. I expect the Cruz fight to go down similar to the Moraes fight. It took Cejudo a solid round to get Moraes’ timing down. He looked really bad in round one and lost it badly. The second that Henry found Marlon’s timing, the fight was a wrap.
I see Cruz finding some success early in this fight. His movement will be like nothing that Cejudo has ever seen. Cejudo has two option. Fight through the unorthodox movement and take him down, or whether the storm until he gets Dominick’s timing down.
My gut says that Cejudo will keep this fight on the feet. He has a ton of confidence in his striking right now and for good reason. It might take him 5-7 minutes to get in rhythm with Cruz, but when he finally finds it in the pocket, he will take this fight over. Cruz has 13 decision victories, so it would not shock me if he lasts 25 minutes. Either way, whether he does last or he doesn’t, this fight should go one way. Cejudo getting his hand raised when it’s all said and done. Give me the CHAMP CHAMP.
Henry Cejudo (-220)