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Dominick Cruz says 'punch-drunk' Cody Garbrandt got title shot thanks to 'Alpha Fail game'

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Dominick Cruz
Dominick Cruz
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

When it came down to the next challenger for the UFC bantamweight title, Dominick Cruz had two logical opponents. First was T.J. Dillashaw, the former UFC champion who rebounded from a close loss to Cruz by defeating top contender Raphael Assuncao in July, and second was Cody Garbrandt, the undefeated up-and-comer who scored a trio of big-time knockouts in 2016 and developed a simmering feud with Cruz on his way up the UFC ranks.

The UFC ultimately elected to go with Garbrandt, eschewing a higher-ranked foe for a juicier storyline and new blood. The decision was unsurprisingly a polarizing one, but it didn’t much matter, as Cruz and Garbrandt are slated to tangle on Dec. 30 in the co-main event of one of the year’s biggest shows at UFC 207. And when it comes to Cruz, the reigning champion isn’t willing to mince words about what he thinks about his young opponent.

“Plain and simple, he’s not in the top-five of the division. And that’s my job, to go out there and prove it,” Cruz said of Garbrandt on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. “He did talk himself into this fight, 100-percent, and now it’s my job to go out there and fight him. I want to fight him. I want to fight this man, and that’s why this fight is happening, because it sparks interest. There’s a beef there. This guy’s been running his mouth a lot, so my job is to go out there and shut it for him and show him why he’s nowhere near the level he think he is.”

While his credentials may not be as impressive as Dillashaw’s, there is no question that Garbrandt still possesses a formidable résumé. The 25-year-old product out of Team Alpha Male carries an unbeaten 5-0 record inside the UFC bantamweight division, highlighted by a first-round knockout over Thomas Almeida and 48-second thrashing of Takeya Mizugaki. In fact, all but one of Garbrandt’s UFC wins have ended via KO/TKO -- a rarity for the 135-pound class – although Cruz can’t help but question if there is anything more to Garbrandt’s game.

“He’s got knockouts on his record, yes, in the first round, yes, but so did Shane Carwin and we all saw what happened to him when he went out there and went past the first round, didn’t we?” Cruz said. “And that’s what this game is. This is a game where you have to be able to mix it up, and not just (fight for) one round and show how dominant you can be with your power.

“You have to have more than power. You have to have prowess. You have to have ring generalship. You have to understand how to mix things up in the clinch, in the takedowns, over-unders. You have to understand that when you’re on your back, how do I get back up without threatening myself? You have to understand how to keep it after you earn it. And a style where somebody’s been proven to only go three rounds, that’s a tough style to deal with when you’re fighting a guy like me.”

While the war of words has yet to start in earnest between Cruz and Garbrandt, the two have already had several run-ins with one another over the past year, whether over social media or in person. Cruz dismissed many of those exchanges on Monday as an easy way to needle his opponent, who he believes is attempting to perpetuate a tough guy image while being far too easily provoked. Though when asked whether he thinks he already is in Garbrandt’s head, Cruz demurred.

“I don’t think that he’s smart enough to know if that would even be possible,” Cruz said. “I honestly believe that. I think he’s literally about as smart as a rock. He’s had multiple concussions. If you look at any of the spelling that he does on any of his stuff, I mean, he wrote ‘plain’ as like a ‘plan.’ He just doesn’t have the intelligence to understand if somebody was in his head. All he knows is he’s either angry at you, or he’s cool with you, and that’s it. And that’s alright. If he wants to be angry with me, that’s fine. I applaud that. I look forward to it. It makes this thing more fun for me.”

An example of the bad blood between the two bantamweights arose in August, when Cruz and Garbrandt had a slight skirmish on the afternoon of UFC 202. The two ran into each other in the halls of the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and had to be separated. Later that same night, Garbrandt seethed over comments Cruz made about the lack of a father in Garbrandt’s life.

Cruz also grew up with a difficult family situation and simply dismissed Garbrandt’s anger as further proof that Garbrandt has little control over his emotions, although he also said he understands what Garbrandt was attempting to do that night.

“It’s common sense to know where I’m at, because I’m working,” Cruz said. “While these guys are talking, trying to get a chunk of my limelight while I work to make money for myself and money for my family, they find me and they’re trying to get a piece of that. They’re trying to break off a piece of that every single second they can. All these guys, as they should. I commend them for that. And that’s how he talked his way into this fight.

“He went and found me when I was doing my job, and he put himself in a situation where he tried to look as tough as possible, and he made sure and put his nice coat on that he wears every time he wants to act tough, and he did that. He went there, he acted tough, he did his job, and now all he’s got to do is act that way for every 30-second clip he can and then he gets himself a shot. Same thing (Urijah) Faber did throughout the entire career that he’s had to get title shots. He did it with (Conor) McGregor, he did it with me. I mean, this is their game. This is the Alpha Fail game.

“They’re going to walk their way, talk their way into everything they can so the publicity gets behind it. If media gets behind it, it becomes real. If media doesn’t get behind it, nobody cares. So they just know to make it real with media, and that’s Faber’s tutoring helping the punch-drunk Cody ‘No Love.’”

Several critics of the UFC 207 booking have questioned whether this match-up was all too much, too soon for Garbrandt, considering his relative inexperience in the game and his qualifications compared to a former champion like Dillashaw.

Indeed, it is all happening fast for Garbrandt, a blue-chip prospect who only debuted in the UFC last year. But the UFC is above all else a star-driven organization, and a push like the one the promotion is giving Garbrandt is exactly the kind of formula that can create stars under the right circumstances. Cruz just doesn’t plan on letting it happen on his watch.

“If they’re grooming him, I’m glad, because we need as many stars as we can get in this sport,” Cruz said. “I mean, how many shows are we doing a week? How many shows are we doing a year? And the more stars that we have in this sport that people can connect to and embrace and call their favorite, the better it is for all of us. It’s better for me, because now people want to follow him and hate me. It’s better for me because people want to see me smash him and start following me. It’s better for everybody.

“So if they’re grooming him, good. I’m glad. It’s okay with me. But it’s going to take a lot of grooming, because I’m telling you, the guy is not smart enough to deal with this level of competition that’s at the top.”