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Daron Cruickshank feeling right at home fighting with Rizin in Japan

Daron Cruickshank Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

It’s no secret that the “Detroit Superstar” Daron Cruickshank likes to stand and trade with his opponents, and towards the end of his run in the UFC, that became a problematic memo. Cruickshank lost three straight fights in a 10-month stretch between 2015-16, in which he succumbed to rear-naked choke submissions. That spelled the end to his run in the Octagon.

But it opened him up to a promotion that would appear tailor-made for the madman that took out Erik Koch and Mike Rio with ridiculous kicks back in the day: Rizin.

The 31-year old Cruickshank will compete for the fourth time in Japan on April 16 against undefeated fighter Yusuke Yachi (6-0). Thus far he has shown a dash of his most explosive self, some new wrinkles, and perhaps some old habits that die-hard.

The fans in Japan love him.

“The fans are great,” Cruickshank told MMA Fighting in a recent interview. “It’s definitely different. When you’re fighting and you can actually hear what your corner is saying, and you don’t hear the crowd getting crazy. It’s almost like sparring in the gym, where it’s just you and him, and you’re going at it, and it’s relatively quiet around you. It’s different.”

While Cruickshank was wrestling at Olivet College, he had a dream to one day fight in the UFC. He scaled his way in via The Ultimate Fighter reality show, where he competed in the 15th season. He showed flashes of his ability in defeating Drew Dober, and he was successful in his first official fight with the promotion against Chris Tickle. He followed up that performance with a memorable head kick knockout over Henry Martinez back in 2012.

Overall he fought 13 times in the UFC, going 6-6-1.

For a guy who prides himself on being an entertaining fighter, Rizin was a natural landing spot. Rizin — like its predecessor PRIDE FC — is more about the “fighting spirit” than it is wins and losses.

“I had a full career in the UFC, I had 13 fights,” he says. “I was on The Ultimate Fighter. I’m not the guy that had one or two fights or three fights in the UFC — I had five fights in one year one time. So, I had a full career, and I’m real happy with what I’ve done. I’ve made a name for myself. And moving on, fighting for Rizin, I’m actually really excited because it’s the old Pride. It’s all the old concepts. They want to see entertainment. They really don’t care if you win or lose, as long as you show your fighting spirit. That’s what they say. And it’s almost a relief.

“Where in the UFC, if you lose a couple of fights, you’re on the chopping block. You don’t have a job — you’re gone. That’s the nice thing about Rizin, they don’t care if you win or lose. They want to see your fight. They want to see your fighting spirit — the samurai spirit — come out there, show all your skills, and they’re happy to bring you back, every single time. As long as you go out and put on a show and you give it your all, they’re like, hell yeah dude. This is what we want. This is the entertainment that we want.”

Cruickshank got off the schneid, so to speak, in his first bout in Japan. He faced Shinji Sasaki at the first ever Rizin FC show in April 2016, and scored a thunderous knockout via soccer kicks — a weapon he wasn’t able to use in the UFC.

That first fight was just what the doctor ordered. An unleashing of pent-up boyhood reveries of kicking somebody’s head like one might kick a soccer ball.

“I’ve watched PRIDE for a long time, and when I was younger growing up I’d watch it and think, man, that looks awesome,” he says. “I’ve always set a goal for myself, ever since I started fighting, I want to legally soccer kick somebody in the head. Like, if I did that in the UFC, I would get disqualified. But now it is free game, it is awesome, and every chance I get, I run up and kick them in the head. It’s second nature.

“Switching over to the different rules was easy for me. I love it.”

Cruickshank will never be confused as a jiu-jitsu wizard, though in his second fight he was able to score just the second-ever submission victory over fellow striker Andy Souwer in the first round of the World Grand Prix. He faltered in the second round of that grand prix three months later, getting submitted by Satoru Kitaoka via guillotine.

It was his sixth career loss via a submission, the first occurring against Bobby Green way back at a King of the Cage show in 2010. Cruickshank admits he has holes in his game, but he gets a little peeved when keyboard warriors give him advice on what to fix.

“I’ve been grappling forever,” he says. “People come at me on social media and stuff and say if you spent more time on grappling rather than at the gun range, you’d be such an better fighter. I’m like, dude, I grapple just as much as I strike. I want to see you guys, everybody else that says that shit, in the cage or in the ring, in front of the same guy that I just went through, beat the shit out of him.

“Yeah, I get tired. I get taken down. I have some bad habits that I’ve have worked and tried to overcome, but dude, it’s a whole different thing saying something on a computer or via social media and doing it. It’s two different animals. I’m fighting the best guys in the world. The best guys in the world, and I’m at the top of the game. So if somebody catches me in a submissions, it’s probably not so much my fault, it’s that they’re good.”

The one thing Cruickshank is good at? Finding an accommodating party to stand in his wheelhouse and let fly.

“The best feeling in the world is knocking somebody out,” he says. “That is better than anything you could ever do. Taking the life out of somebody’s freaking brain and they fall, and it’s like, wow, I just did that? It’s better way better than getting submissions in my eyes.”

Cruickshank’s fight will be broadcast on, and he’s hoping to showcase a little bit of what he’s talking about. He’s excited about the new rules, and he says he is really enjoying his time with his new promotion.

As a UFC veteran, he likes that he’s seeing more and more fighters defect from the Octagon to promotions that play better to their needs.

“Well, as far as other promotions picking up their game and competing with the UFC, like Rizin and Bellator picking up UFC veterans, it’s going to make the sport all-around better,” he says. “Because now, the organizations are fighting to get the good fighters. So they’re going to pay more, and take care of their fighters more, and that’s what I’m seeing in Rizin and that’s what you’re going to see all around.”

As for Yachi, his opponent come Sunday morning in the States from Yokohama, Japan? He knows as much as he usually does about an opponent heading in. Namely, that he has a chin.

And that chin is hittable. 

“The only video I saw was [Yachi]’s last fight, which I was on the fight card and I’m pretty sure we were in the same locker room,” he says. “I didn’t really look him up too much. I’ve had so many fights, and I’ve fought so many different types of people, it’s whatever. I’ve never really concentrated on my opponent, I concentrate on myself. Get my hands ready, get my feet ready, harden my body, get my weight down, and I’m ready to go. Put me in front of anybody and I’m going to put on a show.”

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