“I think my style progressed as I progressed as a fighter,” Cruz said. “With every fight I add more and more to my arsenal. You have time between camps that you should be using to improve; you shouldn’t be trying to get in shape and get better in training camp.
“The way my style came about is because of the way I think about striking; with 4oz gloves, the person who takes the least amount of damage to me is the person who is usually going to win the fight. If you can’t touch somebody, hit somebody, how are you going to win a fight? It’s just common sense, but I think a lot of people think they can’t go out there and avoid being hit for 25 minutes.”
Cruz’s response to said perspective?
“Well why not? Just move your freakin feat,” Cruz said. “On top of taking little damage, you’re frustrating your opponent, they can’t figure out how to fight you, and every single time somebody throws a punch, that hand is leaving their face at that precise moment. If you can figure out the correct angle to hit them when they’re punching, that’s the key to inflicting your own damage.”
“From day one, I was always working on being hard to hit,” Cruz said. “I don’t know why. You get this feeling when you know somebody is going to throw a punch as a striker, and I think I have a good sense of when somebody is going to throw, and I just move out of the way. You can watch any good boxer and they have good head movement, but I noticed it was something a lot of MMA fighters didn’t have, so I wanted to pinpoint the things that would make me different from every fighter out there.”
Being different, according to Cruz, is as important as being awake on fight night.
“You’ve got to be different in this sport or else you can’t separate yourself from the other contenders,” Cruz said. “When you’re getting ready for an opponent, you want to bring in specific training partners to emulate their style. I’ve been able to do that for every opponent I’ve fought, but I’m almost certain they haven’t been able to do the same for me.”
Discussing his current success, Cruz said many of the top fighters in the sport, along with a few up-and-comers, have one trait that separates them from their contemporaries: their creativity.
“Creativity is a big part of it,” Cruz said. “You look at a lot of things Anthony Pettis has done that you haven’t seen before and you haven’t seen a lot of the things I’m doing in there. You can’t prepare for something that you haven’t seen. That’s the bottom line. A key in my training is to adjust to my opponent after every minute of the fight in order to adapt to the situation. There is no way to know how fast a person is, how hard a person hits, or how strong a person is until you’re in there with them, which is why I need to work hard on the things I can control to lessen that margin of error.”
Along with or in spite of the creativity evidenced by himself and fighters like Pettis and rising light heavyweight contender Jon Jones, Cruz believes an advanced and cerebral approach to the fight game is what it will almost always take to become champion in the future.
“If you really take a poll of the top champions in the sport, they are not dumb guys,” Cruz said. “These guys are very cerebral, very intelligent, and they have a reason for everything they do. Look at Randy Couture and how long he’s been able to survive in this sport. The same thing goes for Georges St-Pierre. Even Jon Jones—he isn’t a champion yet—but he looks at every person he fights and he knows exactly how to fight [that person].”