Many are accustomed to the “jab/kick/something shoot for takedown” approach as a way to link striking to takedowns (ie that whole “set up your takedowns with strikes” mantra), but I’ve not seen someone set up their takedown with movement/footwork like Cruz has. Cruz doesn’t have a vast array of offence/”moves”, it’s basically uppercut, left hook, double leg +kneetap, some kicks. No elbows, knees, jab, no muay thai plum, no front kick, no single legs. However, Dominick Cruz instantly jumps out to me as someone who has really thought about how to create positions/angles for his strikes and takedowns without having to punch his way through. His minimal move/strike selection is “optimized” for his strategy and he always seems to find his mark while taking no damage. My initial motivation to study Cruz was his unique kneetap but after time I have come to appreciate the thinking behind his fight strategy hence the 3 part series that follows.
Wrestling/Judo is more similar to Striking than BJJ
Not exactly a new claim by me but I’ll try flesh out the argument a bit more here. When you are “thinking” about taking someone down, you are constantly processing levels, stances and angles. You also need to factor which direction you are moving in as well as your opponent (especially where he will be moving next). Look at the following concepts central to takedown based disciplines:
b) Angles/planes of attack (ie the “weak plane” I have covered before)
d) Boundary management
These are very similar to concepts essential in striking and are in my opinion secondary to BJJ (does feinting/flinching” a sweep/sub actually happen in elite BJJ? I’m not talking about “flowing” from one genuine sub attempt to another). Furthermore, in judo/wrestling match play, the boundary actually means something and footwork tactics to “corner” someone to open up weak planes (by forcing a stepping error) are essential to have in mind. This is analogous to ringcraft/cagecraft in boxing/MMA. I find this mental dynamic (ie footwork) is totally absent/secondary, even at the elite levels of BJJ. You often see no regard for footwork especially in tight corners of the mat (just step out of bounds), while it is a very conscious decision for judokas. In BJJ, if someone is too hard to take down, just pull guard.
fyi: In case you think I am ragging against guard pulling, you are mistaken. I am strongly against penalizing guard pulling in BJJ (I think another rule should be removed though). If someone is stalling on his feet (BJJ rules are not strict enough to penalize stalling on the feet + no boundary rule), pulling guard is the best way to break the stalemate (and also to spare us 10 minutes of pointless defensive pummeling/grip fighting). Judokas/Wrestlers HAVE to master footwork and angles simply because the rules give them no choice, they can’t take the short cut to drop to their backs. You want to see more takedown technique/strategy in BJJ? Change the rules to incentivise it. Attacking players’ tactics as cowardly/would lose in a street fight/fail at MMA/etc is a pointless exercise. Their task is to win within the confines of a given rule set that they have signed up for.
Dominick Cruz – Wrestle Boxer ‘Redux’
When we think of the term “Wrestle Boxer” – we tend to imagine (1) a powerful wrestler with some rudimentary striking skills or (2) a skilful striker that’s hard to take down. Cruz is a “wrestle boxer” too, but he is neither of those 2 versions. Instead, rather than using a powerful sprawl, he uses agility and footwork to dodge the takedown rather than meeting it head on.
Here in Part 1, I look at his main “go to moves” which will be to breakdown his strategy later in Part 2. Cruz is running one of the smartest fight strategies I have ever seen and like my Leandro Lo series where it culminated in the “DLR Counters” video , it helps to see what his main strikes/takedowns are first so that I can just get straight to the “thinking” behind his move selection and why it fits in the grand scheme of things.
Some additional notes to the video:
(1) Cruz’s innovative adaption of the crouch from boxing to MMA brings many advantages in that it is the ultimate “feint”. ie When he assumes this posture in front of his opponent it might well be a punch/kick/takedown. At the same time, with his body bladed, lowered and his hands low, he is protected from many strikes and can crossface/underhook on a takedown fast. You will see more on this in Part 2.
(2) In terms of wrestling, Cruz is probably the tallest fighter in his division and that typically doesn’t bode well in a wrestler/team Alpha Male heavy division. In straight up clinch fights/cage grinds, Cruz tends to lose/barely escape, mainly due to his height making it hard to get underhooks and secure good leverages. Yet amazingly, he has one of the highest takedown percentages in the division. Part of it is due to his strategy which makes opponents present him the double leg (Part 2), but also because of his use of the knee tap which needs minimal level change. This is a rarely seen takedown because the inside trip has a similar set up (exploiting the counter underhook) and reaping your opponent’s leg with your leg is easier but Cruz has managed to use the “Dart” and his long reach to make this takedown work in MMA.
Just his key moves broken down this video for now, but in Part 2 I will really start to “scout” and hopefully it all makes sense then. Check it out.
A big thank you to Luke Thomas and Jack Slack for their prior work on Dominick Cruz which was very useful reference material for my studies. To find out more about Dominick Cruz’s mindset/thoughts on boxing, do listen to his technique talk with Luke Thomas here. To learn more on the Dart, do check out Jack Slack’s piece on it here, and his other work in general.
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