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Dominick Cruz: Daniel Cormier set up a ‘trap’ to knock out Stipe Miocic at UFC 226

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For Daniel Cormier to take the heavyweight championship from Stipe Miocic, he had to give up something first.

“DC” added the heavyweight title to his collection last Saturday with a first-round knockout of Miocic in the main event of UFC 226 in Las Vegas, an outcome that seemed unlikely given that Miocic had only once been finished with strikes in 20 bouts prior to fighting Cormier.

So how was Cormier able to pull off what knockout artists like Francis Ngannou, Alistair Overeem, and Mark Hunt could not?

Appearing as a guest on the “Monday Morning Analyst” segment of The MMA Hour, Dominick Cruz explained to host Luke Thomas how Cormier used his grappling mastery to lure Miocic into his world early in round one and set up the finish just minutes later.

“Go back to the very beginning of the fight, to the very, very first sequence. You see Cormier is already looking for this setup,” Cruz said, when asked how Cormier’s use of underhooks played into his strategy. “And this is one of his things he’s used throughout his entire career, but I think that he assumed that it was going to work extra well against Stipe and you can see he has a natural gift to where he can feel things and then just flow instead of overthinking it.

“And right off the bat Stipe came across the fence and started punching combinations and what you do is you grab. You grab the top of the head and you grab underhook on the other side and what that does is it gives Stipe the underhook, but it also allows (Cormier) to grab the uppercut and fire on the opposite side. So it’s kind of a weird feeling for Stipe. Most people don’t give underhooks like that, most of the time there’s a fight there.”

By giving up an underhook, Cormier was able to neutralize the length and reach advantage of the 6-foot-4 Miocic. Cormier both took away Miocic’s long-distance striking options and gave himself the opportunity to land short punches and possibly find an opening for a takedown.

And because Miocic was given an underhook, he felt that he was having success in the grappling himself and would not be inclined to disengage. When Cormier went to this sequence again in the final minute of the round, that’s when everything unfolded perfectly for him.

“So it was really intelligent because it was a trap. The whole thing was a big trap,” Cruz continued. “DC just wanted to grapple with Stipe to get the feel of the Greco. Now in that last sequence, it’s not that DC was driving the underhook. He gave the underhook. So if you watch, you’ll see that he’s right back to that very first sequence that the fight started out with where he pretty much puts that left hand almost on the back of Stipe’s neck and by doing that he can switch to an uppercut with the right hand if he wants to. But what Stipe did is what most people would do, he went and tried to jack the underhook up because that’s how you gain control on a shorter man. DC ‘limp-armed’ Stipe when he trid to jack him up, and a ‘limp arm’ is like when you just sag the arm back through and you come around the waist of Stipe.

“By doing that, Stipe has to move away from the tight waist that DC grabbed, because if DC grabbed that tight waist he now has a sequence to throw Stipe. So as he walked away from the tight waist of Daniel Cormier, he walked into the right hand of Daniel Cormier, which actually makes it more powerful and harder to defend. It’s just dirty boxing 101 with Greco Roman wrestling and it was just in fluidity and it was beautiful.”

Cruz compared Cormier to UFC legend Randy Couture, who also captured titles in both the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions — though he never held two belts simultaneously as Cormier is currently doing — citing their Olympic-level wrestling backgrounds as one key to their success. During his record-setting run as UFC heavyweight champion, Miocic had not faced an opponent with Cormier’s wrestling credentials.

But even knowing that Cormier presented a unique challenge to Miocic, Cruz was as surprised as everyone else that his fellow FOX Sports analyst was able to end the fight so emphatically.

“I think that when you look at the way that fight went, nobody really thought knockout going in the first round, so that was surprising,” Cruz said. “But the fact that he won, not really surprising; just to get a knockout in the first round, that was pretty cool for him.”