Bantamweights Cruz, Faber pack big punch

July 1, 2011

With the memories of the Quinton "Rampage" Jackson-Matt Hamill and Junior Dos Santos-Shane Carwin fights still buzzing around in their heads, it is entirely possible that the UFC's fair-weather fan base might steer clear of Saturday's UFC 132 card.

But considering the depth of what's on it and the drop-dead gorgeous main event, it would be a shame if they did.

With Dominick Cruz (17-1) defending his newly minted UFC bantamweight title for the first time (he has, of course, defended this same title twice before, back when it was known as the WEC bantamweight title), he enters the cage the betting-line favorite, but also the lesser-known entity. But, name value aside, if he were to earn an avenging victory here over Urijah Faber (25-4), he could easily bounce his way up the pound-for-pound list and become a perennial top-fiver.

Of course, Cruz is competing in the least-respected UFC weight class (it is, after all, the first time it has headlined a pay-per-view), and that doesn't help. But a decisive win over a brand name like Faber is really all that stands in his way of breaking through the consciousness of the casual fan.

We all know by now that Faber and Cruz are no strangers. That one dubious loss on Cruz's record came at the hands of Faber in 2007 when they were both featherweights. Beyond having the psychological edge here, Faber is arguably the faster and stronger athlete. He dropped to bantamweight after two failed attempts to regain his featherweight title, and since then he has looked like a monster, mopping the floor with Takeya Mizugaki and Eddie Wineland.

Sure, we can probably attribute Faber's three title fights in the past two years to his celebrity status, but he stands a reasonable chance of beating one of the top fighters in the world here. But while both of these guys have improved since their original fight, Cruz's development has been far more dramatic. His unique, unpredictable movement has made him nearly unhitable, and his striking has become so sharp and clinical that he could be the first guy to really turn Faber's lights out.

Both are tireless studies and true masters of the head games that come into play in mixed martial arts. Normally in a fight like this, I would say the first guy to make a blunder will be the one to lose the fight, but I honestly don't know if we'll even see anything resembling a blunder. Both will be able to squeeze out a takedown or two, and both will get to show off their explosive offense to a degree, but asking for a stoppage here is simply asking too much.

Cruz, however, is entering the prime of his prime, and he is just nearly unbeatable right now. Still, figuring out a path to victory for him is difficult. Watch for him to go with the Jose Aldo-type leg kick and jab strategy to slowly compile points over the five rounds and use the judges to retain his title. It might sound boring on paper, but when you factor in the stakes that are on the table and the level of talent competing, I can assure you it will be anything but.