The only downside of the Cody Garbrandt versus T.J. Dillashaw title fight at UFC 217 is that regardless of who wins, we are assured more Team Alpha Male related drama in their next title defense. Any time a drunken friend muses that the world would have far less conflict if there were no women, you need only point them the dramas that unfold on a week-to-week basis at Sacramento's most decorated—and spiteful—mixed martial arts camp. Things reached a groan inducing low this week as Cody Garbrandt managed to out his entire team for performance enhancing drug use. To a room full of bewildered reporters and fans, Garbrandt announced that Dillashaw was on the juice and he knew it for a fact because Dillashaw had taught the whole team to do it.
Yes, in the promotional aspects of the fight game, Garbrandt repeatedly proves himself to be thicker than two short planks. But this isn't the after-dinner speaking circuit, Garbrandt gets paid to strip to his jocks and fight other men in a cage for money. That part he is pretty damn good at. No matter how much he fluffs up on the microphone, he is still the man who ended Dominick Cruz's bantamweight title reign and made it look easy. He did that by drawing Cruz, an unorthodox striker, into boxing range and punishing him with crisper form.
What is bizarre about Cody Garbrandt is that he had never fought like that before. He was always a banger who waded forward, leading with his right hand and running into left hooks. Much, much worse strikers than Dominick Cruz made him look sloppy with counter jabs as he walked in. Henry Briones stabbed him up with jabs and Marcus Brimage caught him with stiff southpaw left straights.
But against Cruz he was damn near untouchable and a big part of that seemed to be allowing Cruz to lead. By insisting that Cruz came to him, Garbrandt could draw out the long, loopy punches and exploit the stance shifts. Cruz would rush to catch Garbrandt, Garbrandt would step in, and suddenly Cruz was in the pocket with a much bigger puncher.
The same was true of the gorgeous takedown he hit against Cruz in the first round. Georges St. Pierre, who fights in the main event at UFC 217, carved a career out of drawing opponents onto his takedown attempts in this manner.
The challenger, T.J. Dillashaw is someone we have written extensively about in the past due to his exciting and unusual fighting style. In some respects he is similar to Cruz in his love of switching stances and shifting, but Dillashaw tends to change stances while getting off to the side, while Cruz tends to do his switching while marching in or pivoting away on the retreat.
For T.J. Dillashaw it would seem a good idea to avoid getting drawn into the role that Dominick Cruz played against Garbrandt. In that fight the issue wasn't that Cruz was going to Garbrandt, it was that he over-committed when he did so. Being between stances doesn't help when you get cracked either as it massively increases your chances of getting knocked down by a shot. Dillashaw doesn't tend to wade between stances as he strikes as much as Cruz did, instead he much prefers a drop shift, essentially a jab while stepping into a southpaw stance to the outside of the opponent's lead foot. This sets up his left high kick.
Garbrandt's left hook is his money punch and when you have a great left hook, you don't really have to worry so much in setting it up: getting into exchanges is enough. For this reason Dillashaw should seek to be on the outside, kicking at Garbrandt's head, body and legs, or tight in the clinch whenever possible. Exchanging range is Garbrandt territory. If he can work effectively with kicks from the outside, Dillashaw will place the burden on Garbrandt to close the distance.
On the lead Cody Garbrandt can be pretty clumsy. His jab is sharp but it seldom makes an appearance. The jab is supposed to be the foundation for performance—using it once or twice defeats the purpose of even using it for the most part. More often Garbrandt will walk in behind the right hand to left hook, or jump in with the odd cartwheel kick. When he steps in with the right hand he is a mark for the counter jab. Dillashaw fights southpaw pretty well, it would be interesting to see him draw out Garbradnt's rushes and hit him with the left straight to counter as Marcus Brimage did. If he could land a few of these it would serve to distract from the gorgeous drop onto the lead leg that he likes to do from southpaw stance, setting up a takedown attempt.
For Garbrandt, if he can draw Dillashaw forward, he stands a good chance of getting him to put himself in bad position. Dillashaw loves to dart with punches off to both sides, but they require a good idea of where the opponent is going to be. Chasing and overcommitting with these sort of attacks often results in the fighter throwing himself into a disadvantageous position.
If he wants/has to go on the lead, it would be good to see Garbrandt move forward and pressure Dillashaw, getting into perfect distance before attacking. That seems like a weird thing to say, but the difference between every opponent Conor McGregor has faced so far and Floyd Mayweather was that Mayweather moved himself into range before he even started his punch. In MMA folks start swinging and hope they will catch up to their man. Dillashaw has shown a tendency to throw up kicks when crowded and just not at the best times. His drop shift into left high kick appears a dozen times a match but he rarely gets anything but forearm and often gets his kick caught. If Garbrandt can walk him down and draw out the high kick, surging in with the left hook would be a great look. Roman Zentsov was a pretty limited fighter back in the PRIDE days, but he was good at waiting for a kick just to leap in with the left hook when his opponent was on one leg.
What is curious about this fight is that despite Cody Garbrandt owning the world bantamweight title, we still know very little about him. He starched most of his opponents before we had a chance to see him in a bad spot, and against the most accomplished bantamweight in the game he brought an entirely different style and looked flawless. However, he does seem to be a man who fights to the level of his competition. If he can get by wading in with haymakers and taking punches, but get the knockout easily, he'll do it. Hopefully Dillashaw can spur Garbrandt to new heights just as Cruz did.