Paths to Victory – Simons Says: Cruz vs. Garbrant

The puzzle that is Dominick Cruz has now gone unsolved for nearly a decade. Ever since his solitary loss to Uriah Faber in 2007 (now twice avenged) “The Dominator” has embarked on an incredible 13 fight win streak that has seen him dethrone the likes of T.J Dillashaw and earn victories over Joseph Benavidez, Ian McCall and others.

The storied rivalry between one man and an entire team enters into, potentially, its last chapter, when on December 30th, Bantamweight Champion Cruz faces Team Alpha Male product: Cody “No Love” Garbrant.

This Title Fight is very much a crossroads for the Bantamweight division as a whole, not to mention its significance for the two combatants. Cruz is a man who has never lost his UFC belt, only being stripped due to injury. That somewhat marred tenure speaks to an era, albeit one with intermittency, of elite status. Even when he was on the sidelines nursing multiple injuries, Cruz was on the minds of the divisions best, touted as the unofficial Champion and the man to beat. If Garbrant is able to get his hand raised on Friday night we may very well see the entire division change course, for better or worse.

The implications for 135 lbs. are mostly irrelevant at this point – insofar as they don’t shed light on the task at hand. However, the biography of both fighters is of import and should be studied in order to draw certain conclusions about the looming matchup.

Besides mocking Garbrant’s previous concussion issues and his girlfriend at UFC’s Fight Night in Sacramento, Cruz told “No Love” he “bought a house” by beating his current and former teammates. Despite the bravado, there is no denying that the coaches, trainers, and athletes of Team Alpha Male have been unable to solve the riddle that is the Cruz.

That lack of success is not due to any shortage of attempts either. Cruz has beaten both Uriah Faber and Joseph Benavidez twice. The closest TAM came to defeating Cruz, and some have argued they did, was with T.J Dillashaw though at that point he had made the move to Elevation Fight Team.

What makes Garbrant the one to beat Cruz when not even the ones who taught him could do it? This question and many like it have been lobbed at the Ohio native again and again in the lead up to UFC 207. The only thing that truly separates “No Love” from his former and present teammates is his power. He sports an impressive 10-0 record with 9 of those wins coming by knockout. As Cruz and others have pointed out though, having knockout power is only worthwhile if you can touch your opponent.

Besides the possibility of landing a clean shot on Cruz, Garbrant has no other clear path to victory. His submission prowess is certainly far behind the likes of his mentor Faber whom Cruz had little trouble grappling with – besides once early in his career.

Dillashaw also sports stellar wrestling ability honed on the collegiate circuit but that too wasn’t enough to stop the takedowns of Cruz. Finally the movement and striking of Garbrant can only be called rudimentary when compared to the “Bang” Ludwig style of Dillashaw or the speed of Benavidez.

I hesitate to subscribe to this “more ways to win” perspective whereby the fighter with more paths to victory is declared a large favorite. Garbrant has one path to victory but it has been proven effective in 90% of his fights so far. Conversely, Cruz has won 95% of his fights but with somewhat varied approaches. Whatever you want to say about Cruz – his penchant for sustaining injuries, his lack of power, or his inability to finish fights – no one can claim him to be one-dimensional.

Fight Odds by MMA Files: Dominick Cruz  -210 vs Cody Garbrandt +175

So while “The Dominator” has numerous feasible paths to victory, “No Love” has just one. But still that one might be all it takes.

Many pundits parroted a similar narrative heading into UFC 193. They claimed Ronda Rousey had greatly improved her striking, and coupled with her clean Judo and stellar submissions meant she was a shoo-in to beat the one dimensional Holly Holm. These people claimed the same thing in the lead up to UFC 198: Fabricio Werdum was the man with the world class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and the better Muay-Thai and Kickboxing. Yet it was the brutal speed and power of the boxing of Stipe Miocic that earned the “one dimensional” fighter the victory.

Will Garbrant prove to be the Holm or Miocic in this case? Or will Cruz show once again just how far ahead of the game he is?

At the risk of falling into the same trap as many others I have to side with the reigning Champion. I don’t doubt Garbrant’s power, speed, takedown defense or, in short, any part of his game.

However, as style matchups go I can’t really see a better one for Cruz besides perhaps John Lineker. The footwork and movement of the Champion is simply unmatched in the world of MMA. Even the man closest to him in that arena (Dillashaw) couldn’t get it done.

So while perhaps the simplicity of Garbrant’s plodding movement might just be Cruz’s kryptonite I just cannot see the Ohioan winning unless the Alliance fighter makes a monumental mistake. The narrative of “more ways to win” is only true or false on a case-by-case basis. This time in particular I think there is enough reason to believe it to be true.

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