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Dominick Cruz vs Cody Garbrandt: The Bantamweight King Or The Young Pretender?

INGLEWOOD, CA - JUNE 04: Urijah Faber (blue gloves) and Dominick Cruz (red gloves) during their bantamweight championship bout at UFC 199 at The Forum on June 4, 2016 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

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Will Dominick Cruz or Cody Garbrandt come out on top tonight in Las Vegas?

The UFC’s bantamweight division has become something of a shark-tank in recent times. Its top 10 currently boasts some of the promotion’s most highly-touted prospects in any weight division and going into 2017, it will be interesting to see how recognisable the landscape at 135lbs will look 365 days into the future as this truly fascinating year draws to a close.

UFC 207 will take place this weekend at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and though much of the hype surrounding the event has been focussed on the returning Ronda Rousey, for many, the card has more than enough depth to warrant spending some of your post-Christmas money on the pay-per-view.

In the co-main event the UFC’s bantamweight championship will be contested by defending strap-holder Dominick ‘The Dominator’ Cruz and his opponent, Cody ‘No Love’ Garbrandt, the latest in a string of Team Alpha Male prospects that has seen the long-lasting feud between the gym and Cruz grow into one of the most venomous in MMA today.

When all is said and done, Cruz’s story will no doubt go down as one of MMA history’s most inspiring. The two-time bantamweight champion saw his career go through the kind of turbulence that would break lesser men when his dominance over the WEC’s bantamweight division and his time as the UFC’s champ was cut short by a string of highly unfortunate injuries to his ACL and groin.

Between October 2011 and December 2016, Dominick competed in pro-MMA on just one occasion, steamrolling his way through the #5-ranked contender Takeya Mizugaki in just 61 seconds before succumbing to yet another injury that would see him on the sidelines once more for 16 months. It seemed as though Cruz’s luck was just failing him at every turn but fortunately, in the early parts of this year, he made his return once more and took back his belt in a razor-thin decision victory over TJ Dillashaw, a bout that was hailed as an early contender for ‘fight of the year’.

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 17:  T.J. Dillashaw (R) punches Dominick Cruz in their bantamweight bout during UFC Fight Night 81 at TD Banknorth Garden on January 17, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Cruz’s strengths as a fighter greatly outnumber his weaknesses. His movement and footwork are perhaps the greatest in MMA history and have been meticulously crafted by Dom over the years to allow him to escape even the most chaotic of exchanges relatively unscathed. He is regarded as the ‘least-hit’ fighter in MMA and even though you would think that would make his fights seem overly defensive, he uses his movement to attack from unorthodox angles and outpoint his opponents.

His wrestling and in particular his takedowns are some of the most underrated in the lighter weight-classes and to be honest, it’s hard to point at one area in his skillset as a weak-point but since he’s taking on the hard-hitting Cody Garbrandt, perhaps true power is the one area you can safely give his opponent the edge in.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4hxuBOsUu8

Cruz has taken on and beaten some of the best in the sport today including Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez, Ian McCall, Demetrious Johnson and TJ Dillashaw and in comparison to Cody, he holds a massive experience advantage coming into this one, something that only adds to the fact that- in my eyes – he is one of the greatest the sport has ever seen, in equal parts due to his dominance, his in-octagon fight IQ, his CV and his impeccable technique.

There’s not really a nice way to put this. Cody Garbrandt is a massive underdog going into this fight. At 25 he’s certainly one worth looking at in the years to come but considering his last two UFC wins came against his fellow prospect Thomas Almeida and the fading Takeya Mizugaki, the step-up in competition may well prove to be too much for ‘No Love’.

Or who knows? He may go out there and rise to the occasion and pull off one of the biggest upsets of all time. This is MMA and you’d be a fool to believe you can predict anything in this game beyond all doubt, but if we’re going off what we know alone, it’s clear to see that Cody’s chances in this matchup are slim at best.

LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 20:  Cody Garbrandt waits for the start of his bantamweight bout against Takeya Mizugaki at the UFC 202 event at T-Mobile Arena on August 20, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Garbrandt won by first-round TKO.  (Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images)

He’s a polished boxer whose knockout power is unquestionable. In 10 pro-fights only one man he faced has avoided being finished and for the most part, Cody has shown some serious improvement throughout the course of his UFC career so far. The fighter who stepped up and made his UFC debut against Marcus Brimage in early 2015 was most certainly a different one to the one who smoked the aforementioned Mizugaki in under a minute at UFC 202 and in his time in the octagon so far, Cody has shown good wrestling, solid takedowns and some mild flirtations with the capoeira style, which do a good job of keeping his opponents guessing.

His most impressive win in my eyes was his first round thrashing of Thomas Almeida earlier this year where, in a bout in which he was the underdog, he took the fight to Thominhas and in the midst of the chaos that ensued, clipped him with several powerful shots on the feet, earning himself another first round finish, and the plaudits of the MMA community that followed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlgopY6ZBEQ

Cody’s all round game seems to be solid at this point. As a product of Team Alpha Male you can be sure he’s got some skills in the wrestling department and that his cardio is on point, and when compared to Cruz, a lot more is left unknown about his game, which of course does add to the intrigue.

Basically, the paths to victory for Cody coming into this contest are few and far between. I feel like if he nabs a win in this one it’ll be by way of knockout (of course), meaning he would become the first man to knock the champ out over his 23 pro-fights. It’s a tall task but these things do happen in MMA and Garbrandt definitely has the power to do that type of damage.

One area worthy of note however as we finish our look into this bout is the mental advantage Dominick Cruz has established over Cody this week. In recent times, Cruz has referred to Cody as hot-headed and emotionally unstable and to be honest, based on what we have seen of him so far, I don’t believe this to be far from the truth. Cody has come close to igniting backstage brawls on several occasions, has resorted to petty, profanity-laced rants when faced with Cruz in any one-on-one situations and has shown virtually nothing resembling discipline since the fight has been announced.

Now, I can’t sit here and say this is going to make Cody fight any better or any worse come fight-night but I do think it is worthy of note, especially given his relative inexperience at this level.

This is the fight I’m looking forward to the most out of all of those presented to us for this weekend anyway. I do think Cody has a chance but as a Dominick Cruz fan I simply relish the opportunity to see him in action and regardless of the result, I hope these two guys fight their hearts out come Friday night.

Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena

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Author: Cillian Cunningham

Lead mixed martial arts writer who can be contacted at cillian@punditarena.com.