Dominick Cruz is what you could call an interested observer in the simmering feud on The Ultimate Fighter 25 between UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt and T.J. Dillashaw. Cruz fought both men last year and is eyeing a second fight against the winner for the next UFC title shot. Cruz also has his own rivalry with Urijah Faber and Team Alpha Male — the camp involved in the center of the drama — dating back a decade, and his experiences and second career as an analyst for FOX Sports have afforded him a unique perspective on the TUF 25 situation as it plays out.
And all of those experiences have led Cruz to one conclusion as the July 8 showdown at UFC 213 between Garbrandt and Dillashaw approaches.
“I think Cody wins,” Cruz said Monday on The MMA Hour. “Because I think that what’s happening with that whole situation, being involved on TUF Talk and seeing what’s going on, talking to (Duane) Ludwig, talking to Dillashaw, talking to Cody, talking to certain people as I move through the sport and do this analyst gig, I think this beef really is Faber’s beef. And I think Cody will pretty much listen to Faber. If Faber told him to jump off a bridge headfirst, he would do it.
“He’s fighting Faber’s fight for him, plus TJ’s up for the belt, so it makes it even easier for Cody to just say, ‘eff you, TJ,’ plus, ‘my favorite mentor and coach, dad, uncle, whatever you want to call him, hates you too, so I really hate you.’”
Dillashaw’s infamous departure from Team Alpha Male — and the question of whether or not that departure was forced by Faber — has thus far been the overriding storyline between Dillashaw and Team Garbrandt on TUF 25. Already, just two episodes into the season, the two teams have gotten into numerous dust-ups over the topic, with Garbrandt even grabbing Dillashaw by the throat and igniting a melee in the opening episode of the series.
The tense atmosphere has created a seemingly difficult situation for Dillashaw, who is surrounded on the show at all times by former friends, coaches, training partners, and mentors from Team Alpha Male. And Cruz believes that atmosphere will ultimately be a major part of Dillashaw’s undoing.
“Realistically, in my opinion, if Faber cared about TJ as much as he said he did, then he would’ve let him leave and do what he needed to do to better his career as a friend and a coach,” Cruz said. “(Alliance MMA head coach) Eric (del Fierro) has told me several times that if I ever need to leave our camp at Alliance and go anywhere, it wouldn’t matter, he would still manage me, still be my friend. He wants to see me do the best, wherever I think I need to go to be the best in the world. And my coach Eric del Fierro would never disown me, we would never have a problem. We’ve had this talk, ‘if you need to go, then go.’ Well, Faber couldn’t do that.
“It hurt his ego that his guy would go somewhere else and train with somebody that TJ thinks is better than Faber, and it hurt him that Ludwig was getting all this shine while he was at Faber’s camp, because that’s Faber’s camp. So that all being said, TJ isn’t just fighting Cody. He’s fighting that entire camp. He’s fighting Danny Castillo. He’s fighting Faber. He’s fighting Cody. He’s fighting all his old coaches. He’s fighting all his old friends and family members. I think that mental strain and the loneliness that he’s feeling on that show and over this period of time is wearing on him, and I think that the mental aspects of that are what gets him beat against Cody, not the technical aspects that TJ has.”
If UFC 213 existed in a vacuum and the drama with the Team Alpha Male backstory wasn’t present, Cruz indicated that he believes Dillashaw has the tools necessary to beat Garbrandt. But ultimately that’s not how the fight game works, and Cruz believes Dillashaw will be battling just as much outside the cage as he will inside it as fight week approaches.
“I think stylistically, TJ has the technique and the tools to beat a guy like Cody,” Cruz said. “He kicks fluently, he mixes his punches and kicks. Cody has the edge in the power in the pocket, but TJ can make up the pocket work with kicks, movement, and angles, and he’s kicking a little bit more than I did against Cody, so I think that will play to his advantage. But as for the mental game, I think the fact that TJ is facing that whole camp, not just Cody Garbrandt, I think that’s really wearing on TJ. I think it’s going to keep wearing on him. I think the mental is what gets him beat against Cody.”