Cruz, the former UFC bantamweight champion, was expected to rematch the winner of the contest for the 135-pound strap until a mid-spring injury suffered by Garbrandt forced the bout to be postponed until UFC 217. While the delay wasn’t ideal, Cruz remains in line to challenge for the bantamweight strap if he gets by Jimmie Rivera on Dec. 30 at UFC 219, and he expects Garbrandt to take care of business.
“I do think that Cody beats Dillashaw,” Cruz said recently on The MMA Hour.
“It’s because I think that he’s kinda in the head of TJ with the whole (Team Alpha Male) team. You’re not just fighting Cody. If you were just fighting Cody, [Dillashaw’s] got a good support system, it wouldn’t be as difficult for TJ. But he’s fighting that whole team who knows everything there is about him, so they know how to get under his skin.”
The rivalry between Garbrandt and Dillashaw is one that predates Garbrandt’s title reign. Tensions between the two sides first arose following Dillashaw’s contentious 2015 departure from Team Alpha Male, the Sacramento-based squad owned and operated by retired UFC Hall of Famer Urijah Faber. Garbrandt came up under the Team Alpha Male umbrella, and the lingering beef between the team and Dillashaw ended up being the driving narrative of The Ultimate Fighter 25, with both sides erupting into countless arguments including a memorable exchange that saw Garbrandt grab Dillashaw by the throat.
Having fought both men, and having also served as the chief antagonist of Team Alpha Male throughout the past decade, Cruz is well aware of the value of mental warfare when it comes to facing Dillashaw or anyone from the Sacramento squad. And despite the time that has passed since the filming of TUF 25, Cruz believes the rough lead-up to UFC 217 may ultimately impact the former champion’s performance on fight night.
“They know what to say to [Dillashaw] when he’s in there to piss him off and get him off-track,” Cruz said. “They know what to say before the fight to piss him off. They know his weaknesses, they know his strengths. And TJ knows all that stuff, so I think that’s what makes it so tough for TJ are those facts, not necessarily his skillset. If you look at the skillset versus skillset, TJ absolutely has everything he needs to go in there and beat Cody. He kicks, he’s fluid, he’s got good movement, all these things.
“He doesn’t seem to be rushing as much. He’s calmed down a lot since the fight with me. He kinda sits back, waits, uses space well. That will help him. His patience will help him in that fight against Cody. Things like that will help him, and he has the matchup. I honestly think just the mindset is just going to get him a little bit when it comes down to his former teammates, his former — as they put it, literally brothers. Like, you’re going and fighting your brother in battle. I don’t care who are, it’s going to effect you in different way. The question is how, right?”