UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz rolled to a convincing points victory over Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson on Saturday in Washington. (AP)
On rolls Dominick Cruz.
The UFC bantamweight champ made the fourth defense of his bantamweight belt (the second if you're just counting the UFC strap, noob) by smothering the hyperactive Demetrious Johnson to earn a unanimous decision Saturday at UFC on Versus 6.
Sure, there were a few boo birds at Washington, D.C.'s Verizon Center when Cruz kept Johnson grounded, but they were tempered by the surge of two suplexes in the five-rounder. He isn't a hero just yet, but he's getting there.
Meantime, he's running through the division.
Welterweight Anthony Johnson also took a step closer to the top five with a first-round blowout of upset artist Charlie Brenneman, and Stefan Struve shuffled off a recent knockout loss to submit Pat Barry.
Dominick Cruz (19-1): In many ways, a skin of the teeth win for Cruz, but no less impressive. Demetrious Johnson can take pride in pushing the champ to the red line from the opening round -- we never see him breathing heavy in the first. Come to think of it, we rarely see him hang out on the mat, but that's where Cruz needed to take it to slow "Mighty Mouse." Desperate times call for desperate measures, but really, it was the best way to buck predictions and demoralize the challenger. Unbeknownst to us, Cruz was suffering from a broken left hand taken at some point during the fight. Still, he did what it took to win, all five rounds on two judges' scorecards. Now, recovery takes top priority, and it looks like the winner of the upcoming Urijah Faber vs. Brian Bowles will be the next challenge. Depending on Cruz's prognosis, I wouldn't be shocked if we see an interim title situation arise. Faber is box office gold, and the UFC is lining up for a trilogy. Bowles might have something to say about that.
Stefan Struve (22-5): Risk management -- you can't be expected to possess much of it as a person, much less a fighter, in your early 20s, but Struve is clearly learning. After sacrificing the considerable gifts his physical stature brought him for high-risk attacks -- see Travis Browne at UFC 130 -- "Skyscraper" is using his jab, keeping opponents at bay. Well, at least one opponent. The 5-foot-11 Barry could be afforded no opportunity to get on the inside and land a monstrous uppercut, and he never got a significant punch in as Struve kept distance. Just about every MMA nerd watching the fight secretly wanted Barry to powerbomb Struve into oblivion when he locked in a triangle, but alas, an outstretched elbow saved the day when Barry slammed him. That's what you do, after all, when you're thinking one second ahead. In MMA, that's more than enough.
Anthony Johnson (10-3): Johnson looked almost a weight class bigger than Charlie Brenneman and dominated in the way you'd expect from a bigger guy. Brenneman had no chance of taking the fight down with Johnson's sprawl in the shape it was, and the striking game was never close. This was a logical bout given Brenneman's win over Rick Story, but it wasn't much of a fight. Johnson, as we've seen, can wrestle as well as he can strike. Maybe not enough to stop the top three in the division, but we'll run roughshod over everyone else. Onward and upward for "Rumble."
Yves Edwards (41-17-1): Nice to see Edwards get back on his feet after such a scary knockout loss to Sam Stout at UFC 131. To watch him completely outclass Oliveira was to watch a master class in striking as he slipped the Brazilian's wide-swinging hooks to insert a counter, then a head kick en route to the second-round TKO. It's a bit late to think he's going to make a run at a belt -- the loss to Stout pretty much put the kibosh on that. But for the remainder of the time with us, he'll entertain. The winner of Paul Taylor vs. Anthony Njokuani sounds like a blast.
Paul Sass (12-0): So Michael Johnson saw the triangle coming. Of course he would; eight guys had fallen to it. When Sass flopped to his back, legs outstretched, and gripped his hands, he knew what was next. Ah, but did he see the heel hook coming? Too late. Sass' work on Johnson's leg was like watching a Venus Flytrap engulf its hapless prey. At 3:00, the tap came. Quite something when you can get someone to quit as many times as the Brit has with what looks like a limited skill set. His standup work definitely wasn't art in motion. At some point, then, it stands to reason that a good wrestler or sprawl and brawl guy will teach him a lesson. For now, though, we can enjoy the moment.
T.J. Grant (17-5): A leaner, meaner Grant emerged to defeat wrestling standout Shane Roller by second-round submission. Not only was his ground game sharp, but a straight jab and better footwork kept him out of danger on his feet. Something was missing in previous outings, and hopefully, the Canadian has found the right mix. Tough as he is, defensive wrestling has been his weak point, and he's bounced between wins and losses. He's not looking like a world-beater at the moment, but Saturday's performance is a step in the right direction.
Josh Neer (32-10-1): A scrappy fighter cut from the same cloth as the Diaz brothers, Neer desired brawls in previous octagon stints and was sorely disappointed to find grapplers that, for the most part, held him down. On Saturday, he got just the fight he wanted, a knock-down, drag-out battle with returning vet Keith Wisniewski that showcased his devastating work inside the clinch -- mouthpiece-vanishing devastation. Heaven only knows why Wisniewski hung out in the position when the crimson started to flow, but then again, he couldn't get the fight to the mat. All the better for Neer, who gets his fifth UFC win.
Demetrious Johnson (9-2): "Mighty Mouse" had the right idea: when Cruz retreats, be there. Get in his face. Swing away. Of course, the pint-sized challenger had the speed to do that; others merely chased their tails trying to catch "The Dominator." Johnson also had the tenacity to keep pressing in later rounds. Unfortunately, he was betrayed by his frame, which was easily scooped up and deposited to the canvas. That canceled out all the good work he did with his fists -- though his power was muted by his punches' upward trajectory and Cruz's backward motion -- and allowed the champ to grind out a decision. Hard to say a rematch goes different; Cruz has the trump card on the ground. There are still a host of great opponents in the bantamweight division: Scott Jorgensen, Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez, Brian Bowles -- booked or not, a long line of future challenges await.
Shane Roller (10-5): Before he grunted or cried or whatever the referee heard before intervening on his behalf, Roller availed himself well against a very skilled grappler, not only with a stiff uppercut he landed early on, but in a series of sweeps and submission attempts that gave Grant pause. The armbar in which he got caught certainly looked bad, and it's hard to say whether or not he had a few more seconds to free himself. Either way, rules are rules. If the referee says beforehand that he's going to stop the bout without explicit verbalization, you can't really argue different.
Pat Barry (6-4): Everyone loves Pat Barry. He's your drinking buddy, your practical joker, your big kid in a bigger body. He's your Everyman. Unfortunately, he's also 2-4. The anemic heavyweight division may support him while he rounds out the skills which he's sorely lacked since transitioning from the kickboxing world three years ago -- but not for long. He got a tough draw against the 6-foot-11 Struve, who probably could have cinched the triangle that ended the fight a lot sooner had he not wanted to prove a point. Still, it's hard to see where Barry fits in the long-term picture. An ambassador, perhaps, but not a contender, at least any time soon.
Charlie Brenneman (14-3): He was in the right place and right time to upset an underprepared Rick Story, but Johnson knew exactly what Brenneman had to offer and the perfect antidote. Likewise, Brenneman had plenty of time to sharpen his wrestling skills for the fight, and yet his best effort fell violently short. Say what you will about the stoppage, but Brenneman wasn't getting anywhere before Johnson kicked him in the head. He was going to face the music, and it wasn't going to be pretty. He's now 3-2 in the welterweight division and has lost twice to mid-tier guys. I wonder whether lightweight is a feasible option.
Mac Danzig (20-9-1): The winner of The Ultimate Fighter 6 now sports a 4-5 record. He'd be a middle-of-the-road 4-3 if not for Wiman, who benefitted from a bad ref call at UFC 115. Saturday, there was no excuse, although their second meeting was a sprint to the finish. Ultimately, though, Danzig gave judges the wrong ammunition by letting in too many elbows in the clinch and spending too much time on his bicycle. How many more chances is he going to get to turn things around? My guess is one, but I wouldn't be surprised if he's on his way back to the regional circuit.
Rafaello Oliveira (14-5): Oliveira stumbles against strong grapplers (Nik Lentz and Gleison Tibau) and sprawl and brawl artists (Andre Winner and now Edwards). He's now 1-4 in the octagon, and let's face it, not up to par. On Saturday, he came out guns blazing against the inventor of "Thugjitsu" but failed to realize that his pawing punches would leave him wide open on the back end of exchanges. One right hook retort took his legs, and the head kick sealed the deal. It sucks that he had to take one too many shots.
Michael Johnson (9-6): He looked razor-sharp in the first moments of his fight with Sass, and it could be that, yes, the Brit is just that good and submitting all manner of opponents by whatever hold strikes his fancy. Defensive grappling remains Johnson's achilles heel, and until he shores that up, there's not much room for him in the jam-packed lightweight division.
-- Steven Marrocco