For now, the top of the UFC bantamweight division appears to be a three-horse race between current UFC champion Cody Garbrandt, the man challenging for the title next, T.J. Dillashaw, and the man with the most decorated reign in the division’s history, Dominick Cruz. But a fourth horse could soon enter the race in the form of Demetrious Johnson, the reigning flyweight king who sits only one title defense away from breaking the coveted UFC record held by Anderson Silva, and has talked extensively in the past about moving up to 135 pounds for a superfight once that record is his.
As the only person in that quartet to have fought the other three members, that gives Cruz a unique perspective on Johnson’s chances against the best that bantamweight has to offer. And Cruz thinks “Mighty Mouse” would do just fine if he ever decides to make the move.
“Realistically, and I mean this because I fought him, I think that he does great against both Cody and T.J. because I’ve seen their styles,” Cruz said Monday on The MMA Hour. “And I think that I beat him again.”
Cruz actually handed Johnson his most recent loss, a unanimous decision back in Oct. 2011, in a fight that served as Johnson’s final dalliance at 135 pounds. Johnson then dropped down to compete in the UFC’s new flyweight division and established himself as one of the best fighters in the world, ripping through a remarkable 13-fight unbeaten streak that continues to this day.
“I love the guy. I do,” Cruz said. “I think that he’s probably one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever known in my entire life, and I have nothing but respect for him. There’s not a lot of people who I’ve fought that are still cool with me after I fight them, but certain people are. He’s one of them. We have a mutual respect, me and that guy. It doesn’t mean we won’t fight 10 times for you people out there watching, but it does mean that there’s respect there.
“Now, other people, we don’t really get along like that. Me and Cody just can’t get along like that. Every time I talk to him, he tries to challenge me, and I can’t give him a second so I’ve got to challenge him back. Next thing you know, he’s throwing a temper tantrum. So it doesn’t work with guys like Cody. It only works with guys like Demetrious, who are level-headed, calm, cool, collected, see the bigger picture. And that’s the one thing I like about him and that’s why he’s been such a dominant champion. He doesn’t get emotionally overridden ever. He stays very calm and he’s always good.”
In Cruz’s eyes, that even-keeled demeanor is only one of the many reasons Johnson would fare so well against both Garbrandt and Dillashaw.
“With all those reasons and the style that he fights, I think that he’d be too quick for both T.J. and Cody,” Cruz said. “Now, do I think that they have more power and are stronger than him? Yes. But after watching the way Demetrious fought Wilson (Reis), you can see the difference in, he can change his style up according to each style that he faces and make the best win scenario for himself. And that’s something I’ve focused on my whole career. And I think that the speed he has and how tough he is to hit, and the fact that Cody or T.J. don’t really wrestle or grapple at all in their fights, I think that makes a good match-up for Demetrious.
“Now, real quick, T.J. did grapple his last fight, right? We saw him take down (John) Lineker and grind him out. The problem is, Lineker’s a stationary, power-throwing target. Demetrious Johnson moves his feet, flows nonstop, never stops moving, never sits still. The takedowns won’t be there the same. He’s much quicker than Lineker, so that would be the problem with those two gentlemen trying to wrestle Demetrious; whereas, me, I have a different gameplan when I fight that guy, and I’ll never give it away.”