When it comes to phycological warfare, Cruz (22-1 MMA, 5-0 UFC) said it’s all one-way traffic coming from his direction. That’s why his many run-ins with Garbrandt (10-0 MMA, 5-0 UFC) – be it of the verbal or near-physical nature – aren’t going to throw the champion off his game ahead of his second 135-pound title defense. He said the same labels can’t be placed on the challenger, though, which is why, among other things, Cruz has referenced the absence of Garbrandt’s father growing up as well as the many failures of Garbrandt’s teammates when fighting him.
“It’s only personal if you haven’t dealt with it in your own mind,” Cruz told MMAjunkie. “The only difference between me and Cody is I’ve dealt with my demons and he’s still facing them. When he’s in there in the octagon with me he’s got another person to face on top of the demons he’s still already facing in his own personal life. I’m making him battle himself, his own intuition of himself, his own feelings of himself, his feelings about his past, because he refuses to deal with that on his own. He runs from it, and the more he runs from it the more I’m going to make him pay. And the more strength he thinks he has in life, I’m going to take those strengths away and make him deal with his own weaknesses. One of the weaknesses of Cody is his emotions. So, when I say stuff like that it attacks his emotions because he can’t control his emotions. He’s an emotional wreck. I just let him know that.”
UFC 207 takes place Dec. 30 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Cruz vs. Garbrandt co-headlines the pay-per-view main card following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass.
Cruz, No. 1 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA bantamweight rankings, takes pride in his ability to conquer opponents not just in the octagon, but out of it as well. If he can use his verbal skills to get one up on an opponent, he’s going to take every opportunity to do so. Although No. 7-ranked Garbrandt claims he won’t be rattled on fight night, Cruz said it’s clear to him that the scales are already tipped in his favor before a single punch is thrown.
“All I’m doing is making a simple read,” Cruz said. “If someone’s got a good job, I’m going to take away their jab. That’s what I’m doing with Cody. He’s talking himself up. He thinks he’s saying bad things about me when all I’m doing is telling the truth about him. That the difference between me and Cody. What he’s saying he doesn’t actually believe, what I’m saying is the truth.”
Not only does Cruz think he has an appropriate read on Garbrandt’s character ahead of their fight, but he also said he has a read on his abilities as a fighter. The Team Alpha Male product has splashed on the UFC scene since his promotional debut in January 2015, winning five consecutive fights with four knockouts. Fighting Cruz is a massive leap up from the competition he’s faced so far, though, and the champion expects to exploit that.
Garbrandt has openly predicted another knockout victory in his first UFC championship bout, but Cruz said that’s expected, because it’s the only way “No Love” could win the fight.
“Let’s be honest here: The things he’s saying are a cry for attention,” Cruz said. “There’s no logical explanation for what he says, and there’s no proof behind what he says. What there’s proof behind is he knocks people out in the first round and he hasn’t gone much further. There’s proof behind he’s undefeated. But there’s proof behind Shane Carwin doing the exact same thing and getting smashed in the second round because he couldn’t get out of the first round against a top-notch competitor. That’s not be bashing Shane Carwin; that’s me bashing a style and type of style that has been so dominant for so long, so quickly with so much power that it actually works against you in the end.
“That’s what’s going to happen to Cody Garbrandt. He just doesn’t know it yet. Experience is bliss, and I’m going to be able to show him how ignorant he really is.”
For Cruz, the UFC 207 matchup marks a key moment in his title reign. Prior to the beginning of the year it seemed “The Dominator” may never hold UFC gold again after dealing with injury woes over the course of several years. He came back to win the UFC belt from T.J. Dillashaw in January, though, then followed that up with a successful defense against Urijah Faber at UFC 199 in June.
Now Cruz looks to make it a 3-0 year against Garbrandt, and it happens on one of the most significant fight cards of the year with MMA superstar Ronda Rousey set to make her anticipated return against Amanda Nunes in the main event. Cruz missed out on participating on multiple marquee fight cards while sidelines with injury, and while he can never get that time back, he said UFC 207 presents the opportunity to perform in front of a large audience as well as cash in a lofty payday.
“I got another opportunity here,” Cruz said. “(UFC President) Dana (White) did give me another opportunity here. He could have put anybody here, but he put me because I’m going to show up, I’m going to put on a show, I’m going to do my job like a professional and I’m going to do it right. I do take pride in that and I will continue to take pride in this opportunity.”