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UFC 132 Bantamweight Championship Breakdown: Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber

Dominick Cruz, Urijah Faber at UFC 132With all the talk about Tito Ortiz's last chance in the octagon, another veteran of the sport is under a similar kind of pressure. Like Ortiz, fellow Californian Urijah Faber is facing a must-win situation. It's not as dire as that of Ortiz, who needs a victory just to keep his job, but it's nearly as important. At 32 years old, Faber may be facing his last legitimate shot to win a major world championship.

That may sound like hyperbole given the fact that Faber (25-4) is still considered one of the best lower-weight division fighters in the world, but look at it from this perspective: heading into UFC 132, Faber has lost three consecutive championship fights. A loss to Dominick Cruz would have him 0-4 going for the gold in two different weight classes. There's only so many times you can sell the public on a contender when he keeps losing the big one. As good as he is, Faber is already dangerously close to that characterization. Just three fights after dropping down a division to challenge for a belt in a new weight class, he has reached the point where he has to win.

Amazingly, prior to his recent stretch of title fight problems, Faber was practically unbeatable. Before losing the belt, he was 21-1 with a 13-fight win streak. But he's just 4-3 in his last seven bouts. The fight with Cruz is a rematch of their March 2007 fight, which Faber won in an easy first-round submission.

That loss remains the only defeat of Cruz's career. Now 17-1, the San Diego-based fighter has won eight straight, including two title defenses, one coming against Faber's teammate Joseph Benavidez.

The win over Benavidez was the closest fight Cruz has had since he lost to Faber, winning in a tight split-decision. Interestingly, Benavidez and Faber are teammates and train together every day, making it likely that Faber took several lessons from that fight.

Benavidez's game plan that night had several patterns that we can assume Faber may choose to implement. The thing about Cruz is that you know he is going to come to you. He is one of the most energetic fighters in the division and while his accuracy is below average (just 27 percent, according to FightMetric), he tends to overwhelm opponents with sheer volume along with defensive excellence. He strikes but when you fire back, he's usually nowhere to be found.

Benavidez countered that by choosing to engage him on the inside. Because Cruz's side-to-side footwork makes him an elusive target, Benavidez often sat back and let Cruz come to him before lunging forward with head-hunting shots. He also moved forward whenever Cruz kicked, stepping into power strikes of his own. In essence, Benavidez showed that he didn't have much respect for Cruz's power because he had to step into the fire to fire his own offense. The plan resulted in some success, because while Cruz outlander Benavidez 103-46 according to FightMetric stats, the judges saw it much closer.

Faber is likely to have a similar game plan. Most fighters are not going to try to match Cruz's activity, which some of them see as movement for the sake of movement rather than accomplishing anything. For Cruz, though, it's about tempo and spacing. While Faber is 32, he is probably one of the few who can keep pace with the 25-year-old Cruz if he so desired. He probably won't go punch for punch with the champion, however. Faber has big belief in his standup and is likely to let Cruz take the lead while sitting back and unloading whenever Cruz wades in a little too close.

The problem with this type of strategy is it tends to be all-or-nothing. When one fighter is constantly moving forward and leading exchanges, judges tend to see the fight in his favor. It is almost reliant upon the counterfighter to finish. In higher weight classes, finishing rates are higher so fighters have a better chance to successfully employ this type of tactic and close out the show. Once you get down to the bantamweight level though, finishing rates go down drastically, making it a riskier strategy. After all, if you're taking three to get one, even if that one is really good, the judges have still seen you getting hit two more times than your opponent.

Still, it's the strategy I expect to see Faber employ, countering with straight right hands off kicks and whenever Cruz steps inside. Faber may also try to play the bully and grind Cruz against the cage a bit, but Cruz usually works himself out of those situations. The other spot of danger for Cruz is in going for takedowns. According to Compustrike, he's been successful on 21 of 25 takedowns (84 percent) over his last six fights. But Faber has got a wicked guillotine. In fact, it's the move that caught Cruz and forced him to tap in their first fight. Benavidez hunted for it against Cruz as well. But the champion is much better schooled now than he was at that point in his career four years ago, and Faber will have a much more difficult time catching him.

Faber has ways to win. He has enough power to hurt Cruz and possibly finish him on the ground. But Cruz has always shown a great chin and he's not particularly easy to hit. He lands about twice as often as his opponents hit him, FightMetric says. He's also extremely motivated, wanting to erase the memories of his only loss. The Cruz trend will continue Saturday. His volume and versatility will sway the judges. Flash some fancy footwork with his varied standup, sprinkle in a few takedowns, and stay away from any big damage and the fight is his to win on points. Cruz via decision.

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