ESPN chose Henry Cejudo vs. TJ Dillashaw to headline their first card for a good reason. Cejudo upset the pound-for-pound great to take the flyweight title, and Dillashaw is the greatest bantamweight of all time. But instead of a war, we got a slaughter; Cejudo needed less than a minute to crush TJ. Quick wins are difficult to learn from, so instead we’re going to contrast Cejudo’s fight with the bantamweight who failed to take down Dillashaw twice: Cody Garbrandt.
Nothing against Garbrandt; I’m a proud Ohioan. But the man not only beat Dominick Cruz, he styled on him. So how did Cejudo do what Garbrandt couldn’t?
Technically speaking, both Garbrandt and Cejudo are wrestlers. In reality, that’s like saying 50 Cent and Daniel Day-Lewis are both actors. Garbrandt wrestled in his youth, but he’s built his MMA career on the back of power punching. His right hand is an execution and eulogy backed up by a cocksure sneer. Compare that to Cejudo, who won a gold medal at Beijing and five gold medals over all. His striking evolution is quite recent though quite impressive. TJ stands a cut above Garbrandt, but a notch below Cejudo.
See, the threat of a technique can be just as effective as the technique itself.
TJ knew he could deal with Garbrandt’s wrestling if it came to it, so he could tailor his striking to counter the Ohioan’s monstrous power. But against Cejudo, the threat of the takedown lay front and center in his mind. Cejudo didn’t allow TJ to be the striker he was because his stance and strikes had to account for the possibility of getting dragged to the mat. This is the man who dethroned pound-for-pound great Demetrious Johnson, after all.
Placement over power
The best strike is the one that lands while simultaneously giving the smallest opportunity for your opponent to counter. Most one-shot knockout strikes fall outside this category.
Garbrandt hurt Dillashaw in each of their fights, but succumbed to the counter as he swung wide. Cejudo doesn’t possess the eye-rolling, concussive power that makes the highlight reels but he has enough. Who can forget the ramrod straight he used to drop Wilson Reis, announcing himself as a striker to be feared. It wasn’t a winging bear paw that hurt TJ, but a short counter behind the ear as the challenger lunged forward.
And when Dillashaw barely struggled to his feet, it was a lightning-quick two-punch combo that dropped him right back down. Even if TJ was in condition to retaliate, he had no gaps through which to fire.
Perils of changing weight
Moving down in weight has its pros and cons.
Fighters who cut a lot of weight end up significantly larger than their opponents when they rehydrate. They’ll be stronger and hit harder than anything their opponent has likely faced before. One only needs to look at Conor McGregor’s non-wrestler featherweight run to see the results.
But cutting weight carries serious downsides.
No matter how well a fighter rehydrates or how slowly they lose the pounds, weight cutting tends to drop endurance. The ability to manhandle your opponent is mitigated by the fact that you’ll be sucking wind in the championships rounds. Considering that the fight lasted about 30 seconds, this didn’t play a large role. But the other massive downside is that fighters who cut large amounts of weight are generally easier to knock out. Dehydration lessens the amount of fluid cushioning the brain from impact, amplifying the force of a head shot.
And this may have played a factor.
Certainly, Cejudo placed his punches beautifully. But perhaps 125-pound TJ Dillashaw couldn’t recover from being hurt the same way the 135-pound version could. Objectively, Cody Garbrandt hits harder, but that 10-pounds of cushioning could have disproportionately protected him. Either way, it was clear that the cobwebs never cleared as TJ ate punch after punch.
While we didn’t get to see another two-division champion crowned, we got to see a skillful (if brief) execution on Cejudo’s part. From shoving Dillashaw off balance to get him near the fence and predicting his takedown to nail him with a right hand, Cejudo controlled him like he was teaching a dance class. The king of flyweight reigns on.