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Guerilla Warfare and Training Uphill: Post-Fight Thoughts from Dominick Cruz vs. TJ Dillashaw

Big losses and long stretches of inactivity can do strange things to fighters. Some of them will develop a new shtick, or use an old one to set off the media drama that will win them another fight and possibly a bigger paycheck. But the strangest thing it can do to a fighter is to reveal his or her true character – the stuff they’re really made of.

The subjectivity of split-decisions can start endless debate. Regardless, Cruz proved that he is still championship-caliber whenever he’s healthy enough to fight.

Before a difficult test or trial, we don’t often know what we’re made of. This means that our success or failure can be one of two things. It can be a discovery (pleasant or unpleasant, depending on whether or not you win!), or it can be the unsurprising result of having prepared yourself by stepping up to greater challenges earlier in life. I think that this is represented well in the recent battles between Dominick Cruz and TJ Dillashaw, and Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm. The former is a lesson in victory coming as a result of smart preparation and knowing yourself, and the latter is a lesson in waking up to cold realities that have been ignored for too long. I’d like to highlight Cruz’s success here, and focus on the cautionary tale of Rousey’s loss in a follow-up blog.

I’m a fan of Cruz because he seems to me like a combination of Randy Couture and Connor McGregor. Cruz is a chill and approachable guy with a healthy, blue-collar work ethic, but he also has an informed, brash confidence. Those things together are the bedrock of a convincing and sustained champion. True, Cruz has been plagued with injuries, but he’s taken care of them outside the limelight, and he never let them shape his character for the worse. His recent split-decision, championship victory over Dillashaw at UFC Fight Night 81 is proof of that.

As with any split-decision, there can be endless debate over who should get the W. But I think that Cruz’s resilience in the face of adversity and disillusionment was instrumental to his win. He’s at this point because outside of the limelight, he regularly trains with people better than him (at least in specific martial arts within the scope of MIXED martial arts). After his win over Dillashaw, Cruz said that Dillashaw “brought new dynamics” into the fight, but “I swear, he’s nothing that I haven’t seen before. [. . .] The guys that I’ve competed against, I’ve seen all levels of all aspects of MMA, to be built into the champion that I am. So because I’ve felt those things, when I face each person, they’re always not as strong as one of those guys that I’ve faced in one of those dynamics.”

cruzquote2We can learn two important life-lessons from Cruz here. The first is a basic understanding of solid guerilla warfare. Nobody is perfect at every aspect of every art, so use discernment in finding out the weakest facet and attack it intelligently. The second is less tactical-sounding but just as important: it is the serious and sustained humility that it takes to train with fighters who have your number. If you’re a fighter who is not tapping out or getting beaten to the punch regularly, then you’re doing something wrong and you’re destined for some serious disillusionment at some point. These principles are embodied in the cliché of “Cry in the dojo, laugh on the battlefield,” which is honestly just the tip of the iceberg in terms of martial excellence.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ll be using my next blog entry to highlight what happens when people ignore these principles. Rousey learned her lesson the hard way in her fight against Holm, and now she’s at a point where she can either re-create herself and excel, or hang up the gloves.

JJ Mike

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