It was an epic grudge match the UFC had a hard time selling as such. Maybe it was fans' unfamiliarity with the fighters from a new weight division. Maybe it was the fighters' diminutive stature and slightly squeaky voice. Whatever the reason, the grudge match vibe was missing, despite both Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber taking a poster signing snafu from their first fight incredibly seriously.
Without that sense of bad blood, the fight had to rely on its technical prowess to gain and acclaim. In this area, it delivered and then some. On Twitter, Bloody Elbow Editor Mike Fagan suggested it was one of the best fights of the year. Bold praise. Let's break it down, minute by minute, round by round, to see what actually happened when Urijah Faber met Dominick Cruz for the UFC bantamweight title.
05:00-04:00: In the tale of the tape, Faber is listed at a generous 5'6" in height. Having stood next to him, this could potentially be true - if he was caught wearing some elaborately high heels. Faber, the WEC poster boy, is the crowd favorite. Cruz, who was handed his only loss by Faber in 2007, is greeted with a combination of boos and silence.
Referee Steve Mazzagatti asks them if they want to touch gloves. Cruz wants no part of it. As always I am struck by the ever deepening crevice in Faber's chin. It is an amazing sight to behold. Both men take the center of the cage, standing atop an aggressively green Bud Light Lime logo. My wife makes the point that men who drink Bud Light Lime should be castrated - then realized it's likely unnecessary if they are already drinking Bud Light Lime.
After eight seconds of dancing, Cruz leaps forward and lands the first blow of the night, a right hand that backs Faber up. Faber answers back with a high kick that doesn't quite make it to shoulder level. Cruz is jitterbugging around and Faber is biding his time to make something happen. "His movement is outstanding," color commentator Joe Rogan says. "It's one of the best aspects of his game. His ability to switch left and right, back and forth." Cruz once told me his style is a cross between a meth head and Muhammad Ali. True story.
The crowd begins a "Faber" chant at 4:40 as Cruz looks for a throw. Faber has amazing balance and ends up with double underhooks of his own. He manages to lift Cruz off the ground, but the champion somehow keeps his feet. He ends up getting Cruz's back, but the Alliance MMA fighter manages to press himself into the cage. The battle for the first takedown takes 15 seconds before Faber aborts and throws a wicked left hook as a parting shot. "Nice left on the way out by Urijah Faber," Mike Goldberg says.
Faber lands a leg kick and a right hand as the first minute comes to an end.
04:00-03:00: Cruz answers with a right hand that misses, and a body kick that lands on the hip. Cruz aims for the head with two left high kicks that Faber blocks, following the second kick with a right hand that misses. At 3:40 the longer Cruz throws the first jab of the fight. Faber responds with a thunderous right hand that Cruz narrowly avoids. Dominick shifts stances from southpaw to orthodox and back, before throwing a high kick with his lead leg. It didn't land, but it was mesmerizing.
Cruz misses a series of punches, finally landing a leg kick as Faber mostly looks on. Faber plods forward, loading up for big punches, instead of throwing in bunches. Cruz lands a jab and immediately follows up with a leg kick. Faber looks a step slower than the champion in the early going, physically and mentally.
At 3:05 the momentum changes. Faber charges and Cruz looks to defend a shot. Instead, Faber leaps with a right hand. Cruz goes down, but is immediately on his feet and throwing punches. Goldberg screams "He got rocked" but watching it back shows Cruz was just off balance from his knee attempt. He wasn't seemingly hurt from the punch.
03:00-02:00: Cruz is moving as much as ever, either not hurt by the Faber blow, or doing his best to convince Faber and the judges he wasn't hurt. It's a fine line. Faber lands a body kick with little impact. He fakes two additional kicks to throw Cruz off balance, and Dominick settles for his second jab of the fight. The flash knockdown has seemingly made both men more cautious, until Faber throws and misses a crazy left hook at 2:35. The two grapple standing for a moment, with Cruz ending the exchange with a right to the nose that causes Faber to check and make sure everything is still in place. The announcers call a left hook from Faber that actually fell short, ignoring the Cruz right that actually does the damage. "He's catching him on the exit nicely," Goldberg says. It's true, but with the benefit of replay, I know it's actually Cruz who caught Faber.
Cruz catches a lazy Faber kick and makes him pay with a right and a body kick. He lands a hard leg kick for good measure. "Cruz really winding up on that leg kick," Goldberg says. As the two minute mark approaches Cruz whips a charging Faber's head back with a right uppercut, closing the minute with a left-right combination.
02:00-01:00: Faber learned no lessons, charging in wildly with a right that Cruz blocks. The champion is breathing through his mouth, but it seems warranted. In three minutes the two have done more work than many fighters do in a career. At 1:33 there is a moment of panic for Faber fans everywhere. He lands a glancing right hand and then shakes his hand out. With his history of broken hands, it has to be nerve wracking if you are in his corner seeing that.
Cruz lands another leg kick and an uppercut leaping in. Faber still hasn't thrown another right hand and has switched stances a couple of times. Finally he shoots in, pressing Cruz into the cage, looking for the takedown. Before the fight, Faber discussed his wrestling pedigree, suggesting it was better than Cruz's. But as the minute ends, Cruz is defending nicely.
01:00-00:00: At :56 Cruz looks up at the clock. Faber breaks his lock, but misses the two punches he follows with. Cruz is perhaps the most elusive fighter in UFC history. Cruz misses a high kick and then lands a quick uppercut when Faber misses with a right. If he hurt his hand, it seems to be all but forgotten. Cruz initiates a clinch and the men exchange knees. Faber lands another big left when he lets Cruz off the cage. Faber is finishing the round strong, but it likely isn't enough to take the round. The horn blows as Cruz looks for a takedown and Faber lands on top after a beautiful whizzer.
05:00-04:00: Faber just misses a wicked right to open the round. In a game of inches, that one missed by a millimeter. The action is slower to start here, until Faber shoots for a takedown that Cruz manages to avoid. Cruz misses a leg kick and a high kick. "Urijah staying out of range," Goldberg helpfully points out. Crowd chants "Faber" once again and Cruz responds with a sneaky left. Cruz is looking to use his reach advantage with the jab; Faber smartly counters with leg kicks of his own.
04:00-03:00: Faber awkwardly closes the distance and Cruz hits a stiff let hook and a right-left combination. Faber backs out and avoids two more punches before missing a left of his own. Cruz is bouncing around like a borderline lunatic. "His style," Goldberg says. "Has become his trademark." Cruz hits a leg kick and a right hand, but no one calls it because Goldberg is in mid talking point. Faber responds with a hard right hand and Rogan lets out a yelp. "Faber times that correctly," Rogan said. Faber's advantage is fleeting; as the minute ends someone in his corner yells 'Keep walking him back" as Cruz proceeds to do just that.
03:00-02:00: Cruz repeats his pattern of switching stances back and forth, then throwing a kick. Faber isn't fooled. He does it again, only this time tries a left hand instead of a kick. Nothing but air. Cruz isn't afraid to throw a lot to land a few. Faber has the opposite strategy in mind. He's very disciplined for the most part, throwing only with bad intentions. Cruz, however, seems to have a sixth sense about when the punches are coming. At 2:34 Faber misses badly with a wild left hook that Cruz counters with a jab. Both men are moving well and it's a very interesting tactical battle - but one that sees nothing of note happen for the remainder of the minute.
02:00-01:00: It's nearly impossible to predict what Cruz will do. He fakes a Superman punch, opting to kick instead. Faber takes it all as it comes. He's quick enough to avoid most of it and is looking to counter big with a hard punch. Cruz is leaping in and Faber uses two front kicks to push him off. This delights Goldberg to no end, allowing him to call the "teep", a Thai boxing phrase he has tried hard to introduce into the MMA lexicon.
Rogan points out that Cruz was sneaking a peak at the clock. It doesn't slow him down however - he keeps Faber on the defensive with winging punches and a high kick before sneaking in a hard leg kick. What a brilliant display of misdirection. When both fighters paused, if only for a second, at the 1:21 mark, it's a noticeable departure. "I think that's the first time they've stood still," Goldberg remarked. At 1:10, Cruz wobbles Faber with a hard right uppercut.
01:00-00:00: Faber catches an off balance Cruz with a right hand and momentarily takes the advantage. Cruz, perhaps wearied of leaping around, relies on the jab to take back control of the fight. With 33 seconds remaining, Cruz ducks a Faber punch and plants him on the mat with a double leg takedown. Faber responds with elbows from the bottom, gets his foot on Dominick's hip, and manages to escape to his feet.
Faber looks to regain the judge's attention with a left hand, but Cruz closes the round with a dizzying combination of five punches and kicks, three of which land. I think this was Cruz's round as well. Rogan's simple "wow" says it all.
05:00-04:00:Faber draws first blood with a hard leg kick. Cruz shimmies, shakes, and lands a lead right hand. His style is incredible to watch. I don't know if I like it or hate it, but it is certainly unique. Faber misses big again. I'd like to see how Cruz would respond to more traditional striking, assuming Faber ever sets up any of his power punches which seems unlikely at this point. "Urijah's trying to find his openings," Rogan points out. "But they are so few and far between. It's just Dominick Cruz is such an awkward opponent, Urijah seems to be ad libbing."
04:00-03:00: Faber blocks another takedown with a great whizzer. Cruz lands a glancing head kick with his momentary advantage. Cruz dances around as Faber misses a right hand. As elusive as he is, Cruz has a high risk style in some ways. He leaps in a lot - eventually that's going to cost him with a highlight reel knockout. Both men miss a succession of punches before Cruz goes back to the jab. It's worked for him throughout the fight, but he's abandoned it for large chunks of the bout. Cruz slows down momentarily and Faber shows his class, winning standing exchanges when both are hanging in the pocket.
03:00-02:00: Just as things seem to be slowing down, Cruz cracks Faber with a lead left. He follows up with a right, a kick to the body, and another left hand. Then comes a head kick and a leg kick. This all happens, mind you, in seven seconds. Amazing. Cruz stuffs a Faber takedown and lands a left to the body and another kick. His arsenal is varied, that's for certain.
Faber easily blocks a Cruz headkick. If you're looking for flaws in the champ's game, here's an obvious one - his headkicks lack the snap he gets on his leg kicks. He throws them out there, but they aren't fight enders. Even when you are the great Dominick Cruz, there's always room for improvement. Faber shoots for another takedown, gets behind Cruz and takes him to the mat. But Cruz is so fast he scrambles his way right into side control.
02:00-01:00: Faber is slippery though, and escapes to his feet - where he trades Cruz a right hand for a body kick. "Again Faber connects on the way out. Every single time!" Goldberg yells. True, but only half the story. Cruz jumps right back into action with a flying knee, but it doesn't have anything on it. Both men are looking exhausted, but the fight is barely half way over. Cruz remembers his jab and lands a good right lead to boot. Cruz isn't doing much, but it's more than Faber, who seems to be on autopilot.
01:00-00:00: Faber wakes up long enough to throw a hard left, but Cruz is nowhere to be found. Faber takes control of the final minute, landing a combination and a hard right hand. Faber looks to score points with a last second takedown, but Cruz denies him again. Dominick tries to finish with a single leg of his own, and the horn sounds with Faber defending against the cage. Another close round, but again, I see it for Cruz.
05:00-04:00: Both men come out with a vengeance in the championship rounds. "They have not lost a step," Rogan exclaims. At 4:35 Cruz lands a hard right hand that staggers Faber. Cruz, unlike Faber, always throws combinations, mixing rights, lefts, and kicks both high and low. Faber misses a left and Cruz lands a right-left combination to the body. Its the fourth round and he's still capable of a surprise or two. Faber lands a leg kick and follows with a...
04:00-03:00: ..hard right hand that floors Cruz. Cruz is back to his feet and in the process of taking Faber to the mat before Goldberg can finish spitting out "He rocked him." Faber escapes and the two reset. Cruz seems to have recovered and Faber doesn't have a plan to capitalize. Faber shoots a right hand to the body, then shoots a quick double leg takedown, but Cruz refuses to go down. Faber makes him pay with a solid uppercut. So far, this is Faber's best round.
03:00-02:00: Cruz takes control back, stalking Faber, and landing a knee to the body when they meet in the middle.Faber is hanging back, looking to counter. He's done well with that strategy, but sometimes the waiting proves too much. Cruz lands another knee, but Faber manages to connect with a punch at the same time. "Dominick Cruz has slowed his movement in the fourth round. He's standing in front of Urijah a bit more," Rogan sagely points out. Of course, Cruz is tending to win many of the more typical striking exchanges, using his jab and length. He lands a three strike combo at 2:30, culminating with a hard body kick.
02:00-01:00: At the 2:00 mark Cruz follows a left hand with a lightning quick double leg. Faber desperately escapes to his feet, missing a wild left as the two go from horizontal to vertical. Cruz pops Faber with a hard right, causing the California Kid to cover up. Faber comes back with a hard left of his own as Cruz dances out of range. What a fight! Cruz is still skittering around the cage, with Faber slowly stalking him, eventually scoring a left hook to the body and a right hand.
01:00-00:00: Cruz catches a Faber kick and looks for a takedown, but both men have such incredible balance. Cruz looks for a takedown again to close the round, obviously a point garnering strategy he's attempting in each round if he can. Faber avoids going down as the bell rings. Another razor thin margin, but I'll give this one to Faber. "One more round to go," Rogan says. "He's going to come out desperate," Cruz's corner tells him. "He's going to look for a takedown."
05:00-04:00: Cruz's corner is dead on. Faber is indeed looking for a takedown, and Dominick is there to meet him with a leaping knee. Cruz lands a right and a left, then charges in like a wild man, almost getting put to sleep by a hard Faber punch. You'd expect Cruz to display some sense of self preservation. Instead, he was more reckless than ever. "Dominick Cruz is attacking here Mike," Rogan says. "They both desperately want that UFC belt," Goldberg explains. Cruz shoots a single off of a fake Superman punch, a spot on call by Goldberg in real time, and completes it when Faber looks to see if he has a Guillotine choke rather than defend. When the choke doesn't materialize, the challenger scrambles to his feet.
04:00-03:00: Mazzagatti warns Faber about holding the cage, but he continues to do so anyway. Cruz is pushing hard for the takedown, but Faber muscles him away and the two resume fisticuffs. Faber lands a flying knee to the body, but Cruz immediately turns it into a takedown. Faber escapes to his feet with a front facelock, but eschews a potential arm-in Guillotine for a hard left hook. "This is a fight where we really need expert judges," Rogan says. "There's so much going on in this fight." From your mouth to Nevada State Athletic Commission Director Keith Kizer's ears brother.
03:00-02:00: Cruz again makes Faber pay for a lazy kick, catching it for a takedown attempt. Cruz has lighting quick reflexes - if you attempt a kick, you better put some steam behind it or he's grabbing it every time. Urijah manages to keep his feet and the crowd chants his name. This inspires him into attempting an undisciplined left hand and Cruz easily ducks under for a takedown. Faber, to his credit, again escapes to his feet.
Cruz lands a lead right and again takes Faber down. The challenger is once again immediately back on his feet, but Cruz persistently pushes him into the cage.
02:00-01:00: Faber is thinking about a Kimura attempt, but it's not really there. Cruz is wisely killing valuable time, assuming he believes the judges have him out front the way I do on my unofficial card. Cruz is noticeably slower as the two disengage and begin to throw hands, but Faber isn't setting up punches and even a Dominick Cruz at half speed isn't getting tagged by a telegraphed left hook.
"I don't care who wins this fight," Rogan says. "I want to see it again." I suspect that was a line fed to him by Joe Silva or a producer. But I agree whole heartedly. Cruz lands a hard inside leg kick, Jose Aldo hard, but that hasn't been the focus of his attack and Faber is still moving well. Faber responds with an awkward high kick. These are two highly skilled fighters, but no one is likely to mistake them for Mirko Cro Cop.
01:00-00:00: With just a minute to go Cruz is still charging in recklessly. It's probably not a bad idea to assume you need the round to win the fight - but some restraint might be nice to see if you are in the Cruz camp. With 44 seconds left Cruz takes Faber down, then when he regains his feet, takes him down again. Keeping him down is proving harder than putting him down. "Dominick Cruz is really trying to take this home," Rogan says.
Cruz has Faber pushed into the cage right in front of the immortal wrestling reporter Dave Meltzer from Yahoo.com. "Fifteen seconds," Goldberg yells. "10 seconds." Right up until the horn, it's Cruz pushing the action. When the fight is over, Faber raises his hands in the air. Cruz follows suit. "What a great fight," Rogan says.
The two men, enemies at the beginning, hug it out. Twenty five minutes of action tends to earn you respect, if not admiration. When the decision is announced, Cruz earns the victory on all three judges scorecards. Fight Metric confirms the verdict with the power of science.
"Faber's hands were very good man," Cruz told Rogan after the fight. "I've got to hand it to him."
"I thought I landed the heavier punches. I had him rocked a couple of times," Faber said. "But congratulations to Dominick."
Although the pay per view audience is expected to be one of the lowest of the year, it was a great fight to introduce Cruz to the UFC fans. When the fight circulates on UFC Unleashed and home video it will be one to be remembered and replayed for years to come. Cruz and Faber proved, once and for all, that there is a place for 135 pound fighters in the UFC.