WASHINGTON, D.C. – UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz overcame a broken left hand in the first round, which he kept quiet about all night, to retain his title by defeating Demetrious Johnson on Saturday at the Verizon Center.
Cruz (19-1) never revealed the injury during the fight or after, but UFC president Dana White mentioned it after the post-fight news conference was over, noting how swollen the hand was while praising Cruz's performance in winning a one-sided unanimous decision.
"I asked him why he didn't bring it up at the press conference," White said. "He said, ‘Why bother?’ Some guys will after the fight say their ear was hurt as an excuse for their performance."
Of course, Cruz needed no excuse for a performance where he seemed ready for everything Johnson was able to throw at him. Cruz’s movement kept Johnson (14-2) from landing punches with any frequency. The few times Johnson was able to take him down, he was able to get up immediately.
And Cruz, whose game has usually been a Lyoto Machida-like stand-up style, landing and using speed to avoid getting hit, added a strong wrestling and grappling game, scoring a number of takedowns and keeping Johnson down for long periods, as well as outlanding him standing, to win on scores of 50-45, 49-46 and 50-45.
"I thought it was a very technical, good fast-paced fight," said White. "People are going to talk [expletive]. I thought it was a great fight. I thought both these guys showed a lot of heart and tons of technique. I thought the entire card was awesome."
The crowd of 9,380 paid a gate of $706,775 for the UFC’s debut event in the nation's capital. They gave both fighters big ovations after every round, and a standing ovation after the fifth round ended.
Even though it was clear the 5-foot-3 Johnson was losing almost every round, the crowd got behind the fighter nicknamed “Mighty Mouse” more and more as the fight went on, because he kept coming and never slowed up despite seeming to have no answer for the bigger Cruz.
At the end, the difference was Cruz was just bigger and stronger, and showed no weaknesses in his game. While both weighed in at 135 pounds, Cruz cut from 155 pounds and was probably in that range come fight time. Johnson, who is a natural flyweight, only cut from 139.5 pounds.
The highlight came in the third round when Cruz got behind Johnson and executed a German suplex, and then twice in succession went for chokes, which Johnson escaped. Those were really the only two times the fight was close to being finished.
"The suplexes really didn't hurt, but they were great suplexes," said Johnson, who was also German suplexed in the fifth round.
Johnson had nothing but admiration after the fight for the champion’s handiwork.
"When I got hit, I just tried to get back to my feet, weather the storm, and try to knock him out," Johnson said.
Johnson wound up with a large hematoma on the left side of his face from a fifth-round shot as his only noticeable battle wound.
"He's good, he's very strong, that's what surprised me, was his strength," said Johnson. "I don't see him losing for a long time."
Cruz moved himself into elite company historically with his fourth consecutive title defense. In the history of UFC and World Extreme Cagefighting, where Cruz originally won his title, the only fighters who have reached that mark have been Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, Chuck Liddell, Pat Miletich, Tito Ortiz, Frank Shamrock, Matt Hughes and Faber.
Johnson's performance brought up a lot of questions after the show about a flyweight (125-pound) class. White said that it was coming, and mentioned Johnson, Joseph Benavidez as well as some members of the current season of “The Ultimate Fighter” as potential stars of the division. But he didn't have a time frame for when it would be introduced.
"We're going to go out and start building names of guys, signing new guys and bringing guys in and we'll kick that thing off," said White. "I don't know exactly how we're going to do it but we're going to do it soon. We're going to get it cracking soon.
"You'll see guys drop from 135 to 125 for sure, and there's some guys on this season of “Ultimate Fighter” that can make 125."
Still, Johnson said for now he's not thinking about a new division opening up.
"I'm focusing more on 135," he said. "I know I lost, but I think I can be champion at 135 and try to keep on climbing back to the top of the mountain."
Cruz will likely be undergoing surgery sometime next week. Once his hand heals, he's likely facing the winner of the Urijah Faber vs. Brian Bowles fight on Nov. 19 in San Jose, Calif.
Faber, who Cruz beat on July 2 in Las Vegas, avenging his only career loss in a 2007 bout, was in the front row watching.
"Urijah Faber's always in the crowd, he never leaves," said Cruz. "I'm tired of looking at him. I'm pumped for that fight with Bowles. I believe the 135-pound division is going to set the bar in the future. I fought both those guys [Cruz captured the title in March 2010, beating Bowles]. I'm extremely excited to watch it. Both of those guys are finishers. I'll be right in the crowd smirking just like he [Faber] goes to me with his long curly locks."
The show, being a television event on Versus, didn't have the star power of a pay-per-view show, but from top-to-bottom, ranked with an April Strikeforce show in San Diego at the top of the list of the best shows so far this year.
There was something for everyone, and quite a battle for the best fight, which went to a bout where Matt Wiman (14-6) won a straight 29-28 decision over Mac Danzig (21-9-1). Both men got a $65,000 best fight bonus in a fight that could have easily gone the other way. Danzig won the second round, while the first and third rounds were close.
But it was a tough decision. The bonus could have just as easily gone to the main event, a prelim fight with Josh Neer (32-10-1) beating Keith Wisniewski (28-12-1) due to cuts after the end of the second round; or T.J. Grant's (17-5) controversial win over Shane Roller (10-5). The latter fight was stopped by referee Fernando Yamasaki at 2:12 of the third round when Grant had an armbar, but Roller never tapped.
But submission went to 6-11 Stefan Struve (26-5), who stopped Pat Barry (6-4) with an armbar at 3:22 of the second round. It was billed as the tallest fighter in the company facing the shortest heavyweight (5-11), which looked almost comical once it started. But Barry won the first round and damaged Struve with low kicks, leaving him with a nice-sized raspberry.
Once the fight hit the ground, Struve's legs were so long he clamped on a triangle when Barry was practically still standing up. Barry showed enormous low back strength to pick Struve up from that position high, and slammed him down hard with a power bomb. But Struve held onto the triangle, and grabbed the armbar from that position to get the tap.
"When I got that triangle, I'm not letting go, no matter what happens," said Struve.
Anthony Johnson (10-3) got the best knockout bonus, finishing Charlie Brenneman (14-3) at 2:49 with a left high kick to the face.
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