A bantamweight showcase heads to Abu Dhabi on Oct. 22 when one of the most stacked cards of 2022 unfolds at UFC 280. Two of the event’s most anticipated fights involve 135-pound fighters: Aljamain Sterling vs. T.J. Dillashaw and Petr Yan vs. Sean O’Malley.
Along with being one of the greatest bantamweights of all-time, two-time UFC champion Dominick Cruz is also one of the sharpest minds in MMA. And ahead of UFC 280, he broke down the two bantamweight matchups on The MMA Hour, starting with Yan vs. O’Malley.
“I think the experience factor obviously goes to Yan,” Cruz said. “And when you watch what [Marlon] Vera did to O’Malley, you’ve got to give credit to that. He finished him. He really did. Nobody talks about it because O’Malley’s got a way with words to make it seem like he’s undefeated, but he lost that fight. And when you look — the proof is in the results, but it’s not MMA math. Like, [O’Malley’s] got a reach advantage, he’s got good footwork. But Yan, if you look at the way he keeps his defense tight, it’s going be a really good fight.
“What makes it a super good fight is it’s three rounds,” Cruz continued. “O’Malley can really keep his pace and keep on his bike with his range for three rounds, and that’ll support him, with his range and his southpaw stance. What supports Yan, to me, is he can switch stance — he can go southpaw or conventional at any time, and as we saw with him versus [Jose] Aldo, he’s efficient in both stances equally, defensively. So I think defense wins that fight. Whoever has the better defense in that fight wins, is what I believe.”
It was a surprise to many when the UFC booked Yan against O’Malley. The Russian fighter is a former UFC champion and widely considered to be one of the best 135-pounders in the world. Each of his past four bouts have had some kind of title on the line. O’Malley, on the other hand, is a total newcomer to the top of the division. He’s one of the most popular names at 135 pounds, but his only two bouts against ranked opposition have ended in a first-round TKO loss to Vera and a no contest against Pedro Munhoz. Even UFC president Dana White admitted that he had to be convinced the UFC 280 matchup made sense.
However, don’t count Cruz among those surprised that O’Malley landed the Yan fight.
“That just tells me he renegotiated his contract and he’s getting paid,” Cruz said. “That’s all that means. That’s it. It’s simple. He wasn’t chasing the best of the best because he wasn’t getting paid to fight the best the best — yet. Now, he is.”
As for Sterling’s title defense against Dillashaw, which is expected to co-headline UFC 280, Cruz said he expects a battle that could end up looking similar to Sterling’s rematch with Yan at UFC 273, which ended in a narrow split decision victory for “The Funkmaster.”
“That’s a tough one too,” Cruz said.
“It comes down to T.J. stuffing takedowns, which, before he fought me, he had 100-percent takedown defense. So I think that — why would that not continue? I think he would be really good, takedown defensively. And then if you keep ‘Aljo’ on his back foot and pressure him, being T.J., I think he can do really well against ‘Aljo.’ But ‘Aljo’ is big. He cuts a lot of weight, he’s very strong, and that’s like a race. But you see what he did to Yan, it’s a very similar style fight, and that fight was a toss-up, right?
“But you can’t really sleep on ‘Aljo,’” Cruz continued. “If he gets a takedown, he can control you the whole round and then just take a whole round from you. So that’s a tough fight for both of those guys. I’m excited to watch it as a fan.”