UFC Boston: Predicting Dillashaw vs. Cruz

At this point, there are few things more difficult than predicting a Dominick Cruz fight. In the past four-plus years he has fought exactly once. During that time, he has had at least three ACL replacement surgeries. His only fight during the span was so wildly different than anything previously in his Zuffa career. On Sunday, he challenges champion T.J. Dillashaw for the bantamweight title. Which Cruz will show up? Will Cruz even show up?

Where did Cruz’s power come from?
Prior to facing Takeya Mizugaki at UFC 178, Cruz had won only one fight via stoppage in his Zuffa career. Plus, that one stoppage occurred when Brian Bowles was unable to continue with a broken hand. Against Mizugaki, Cruz blasted the respected veteran and finished the fight in 61 seconds. For the performance, Cruz earned a 1670 StrikeScore, which eclipsed his previous high of 418 (against Bowles). Before the Mizugaki fight, Cruz landed 555 significant strikes (per FightMetric) and never landed a knock down or legitimate knockout. Mizugaki had never been knocked out and has not been since. Did Cruz find the fountain of power during his medical sabbatical or did he just land directly on the button?

Career StrikeScore favors Dillashaw, but...
The champion holds a 298 to 216 Career StrikeScore advantage going into this fight. However, Cruz has faced a much tougher schedule. The average Fight Matrix Highest Quarterly Ranking of Cruz’s opponents is 9, while the average of Dillashaw’s opponents is 20. Other than Ivan Lopez (76th), Cruz not faced an opponent with a peak rating lower than 5th during his Zuffa career.

With that being said, Dillashaw has actually performed better since he began taking steps up in competition. In his last four fights, all of his opponents have had peak ratings of 20th or higher. 

PythagScore favors Cruz
Cruz has the advantage in PythagScore by a 99.6 to 93.2 margin. However, once again, there is a caveat. The formula based on a combination of StrikeScore and Bill James’ Pythagorean Expectations severely penalizes fighters for knockout losses. If we remove Dillashaw’s loss to Jon Dodson in his UFC debut, his PythagScore jumps to 99.8.

Dillashaw’s recent domination
For his last three title fights, Dillashaw has put up StrikeScores of 414, 350 and 350. Prior to this recent run, he had never had a three-fight stretch of scores over 300. Cruz has never had such a stretch in his career. In fact, the former champion only has three StrikeScore performances over the course of his career in Zuffa: Bowles (418), Scott Jorgensen (358) and Mizugaki (1670).

The under the radar wrestling battle
Despite his reputation for being a new wave striking savant, Cruz has always relied on his underrated wrestling game to seal rounds. He length advantage over a lot of fighters in the bantamweight division allows him to shoot without setups and dominate fighters with upper body throws. The wrestling battle will probably end up being a bigger battle than most people think. Cruz has landed 56 percent of his takedown attempts in his Zuffa career, while Dillashaw has never been taken down.

Good offense vs. good defense
Ever since Dillashaw won the belt, pundits have been comparing the striking styles of these two fighters. Sure, they both move around a lot, but they are both successful in entirely different ways.

Dillashaw is a hyper offensive fighter. He landes 5.81 sig strikes per minute (4th best all time) at a 44 percent clip. On the other hand, Cruz landes only 3.40 sig strikes per minute at a 30 percent clip.

Cruz excels on the defensive side. He absorbs only 1.87 strikes per minute while avoiding 76 percent of his opponent’s strikes. The current record holder for avoiding opponents strikes is Ryan Bader with 72.5 percent. Cruz does not qualify for the record because he does not have a minimum of five UFC fights.

T.J. Dillashaw UFC Career StrikeScore
Dominick Cruz UFC/WEC Career StrikeScore