It probably isn’t a stretch to say that this fight will decide the unofficial title of the best bantamweight fighter in MMA history. Repeated injuries did what no 135-pound opponent was able to do to Dominick Cruz, and that’s slow him down.
On Sunday, Cruz will fight for just the second time in four years. If he’s recovered from his many maladies, we could be treated to a still-young man eager to prove that he’s still untouchable.
Dillashaw admits to modeling a lot of his game after Cruz — who was the world champion when he first entered the sport. So far, he’s done a great job.
Dillashaw uses deceptive footwork (below) to set up power strikes and has been nearly impossible to take down thus far in the UFC. It will be interesting to see if any of that is enough to deal with Cruz, however.
At his best, Cruz is the most elusive fighter in MMA. He often hands his hands low and swings wide, but he does so off of expertly cut angles and with a great deal of speed.
He’s rarely out of position, even when opponents believe that he is, and Cruz counters well with both strikes and takedowns. Cruz has superior timing, but he may have a bit less horsepower than Dillashaw.
Fighting the champ is a tough way to come off of the injury bench. So, Cruz will have his hands full trying to immediately shake off any rust.
At the very least, Dillashaw is the best person Cruz will have fought, or even sparred with in years. However, the same is probably true for Dillashaw with Cruz.
With Cruz’s timing and Dillashaw’s power, this could end in a flash. However, it is also entirely possible that this goes for five hard rounds.
Dillashaw may be sharper, but Cruz could be fresher down the stretch. I think Dillashaw will overextend before Cruz does, and I think the former champ is capable of capitalizing on that.
Prediction: The underdog Cruz by close decision
Anthony Pettis (18-3) vs. Eddie Alvarez (26-4)
I wouldn’t doubt if no two lightweights are hungrier right now than Pettis and Alvarez. Pettis will fight Sunday for the first time since losing his championship.
He looked serious and focused as can be at weigh-ins, Saturday, and knows that an impressive win on Sunday would likely mean another title bout. Similiarly, Alvarez believes that a big win over the former champ will earn him a shot against the champ.
When I spoke with Alvarez, he had nothing negative to say about Pettis and called him a great fighter. However, he believes that Pettis struggles most when he is pressured — as new champion Rafael Dos Anjos did last March — and is taken down.
Alvarez knows that his pressuring style and strong wrestling are two of his best attributes, so he believes he can give Pettis some problems and take it from him. Pettis has said he’s focused on improving his wrestling, and if he’s feeling refreshed, healed, improved, he’s hard for anyone to beat.
Pettis is sharper and more technical on the feet with his strikes. Alvarez can take a licking and hurt anyone with his punches, however.
On the ground, Pettis is slick off of his back, but Alvarez has solid pressure and ground strikes.
Pettis needs to take control of the ring and tempo, from the start, while using footwork to start his takedown defense, early. If he can do all that, he has the accuracy to touch Alvarez up on the feet.
If he hesitates for a milisecond, however, Alvarez will be all over him, making it a scrap.
Prediction: Pettis by decision
Travis Browne (17-3-1) vs. Matt Mitrione (9-4)
It is a good bet that both of these athletic big men will bounce around, coiled up, before springing and smashing into action. Either could knock the other out with their hands.
Mitrione has said he regrets going for a takedown the way he did in his last loss when it lead to a submission, but if he’s continued to work on that, mixing in blast-double-leg takedowns in with big punches, here could work well.
Browne is tough, tall, long and has great defensive wrestling. This is anyone’s fight and we’re betting that the first guy to find the chin, temple, or back of the other’s head, first, will get the stoppage victory.
With that said, I like Mitrione’s foot speed here. I think he’ll be able to close the distance well and connect with a big shot.
Prediction: Mitrione by first-round TKO
Ross Pearson (20-9-1) vs. Francisco Trinaldo (18-4)
Pearson is the more known and well-respected veteran, here, but Trinaldo has looked fantastic in his last four fights, beating very good opposition. Pearson is a slick and powerful puncher.
Trinaldo is getting more comfortable striking on his feet, but is a great grinder in the clinch, with excellent jiu-jitsu on the ground. Trinaldo has looked a tad better, of late, and could get the win if he mixes his grappling in well.
Prediction: Trinaldo by decision
Patrick Cote (23-9) vs. Ben Saunders (19-6-2)
Love this fight. Cote is a tough-as-nails former world-title veteran who has fought at the highest levels at three different weight classes. He’s got pop in his hands and also has solid wrestling and ground ability.
Saunders is huge for a welterweight, is nasty in the clinch and very dangerous off his back with his Eddie Bravo-honed guard skills.
Prediction: Saunders by third-round submission
Tim Boetsch (18-9) vs. Ed Herman (23-11-1)
These two middleweights are going up to light heavyweight, Sunday. For Boetsch, the move is likely temporary.
He wanted a stay-busy bout. Herman, however, may end up staying put at light heavyweight.
For what it’s worth, he looked lean at weigh-ins at 204.5 pounds. Without the cut to middleweight, we bet both men will have plenty of energy, Sunday.
Boetsch seems to have crazy brute strength. Herman, however, is rangy and has good length, wrestling and underrated submissions.
I think Herman wants to be able to keep Boetsch away and off of him, and/or time takedown entries well to put the fireplug on his back. Boetsch is not easy to take down, however, as a former collegiate wrestler.
If Herman’s hands are sharp, and his lateral foot movement on-point, he could touch and score his way to a decision. We think it will be a bit tough to keep Boetsch off of him, however.