Ego. It’s something I tell my fighters never to have. It’s helpful in its ability to push through pain, to overcome fear and doubt, telling yourself that you belong in the ring or cage. But as useful as it can be, it’s something impossible to fully control. Some say that “ego is the fuel a fighter needs to get to the top.” Still, I say it’s useless. “If you want to knock a man out, you don’t look for it. You allow it to happen.” Training camp after training camp this is the motto that is instilled into my fighters. It’s exactly the approach Dominick Cruz has followed for his entire career. That is, until UFC 207.
Don’t be fooled, having a big ego can be a great thing. It can influence naysayers, turn enemies to friends, and even thrust individuals into positions of power like our president-elect. However, the one place where it shouldn’t be present is during a fist fight.
We can get into the whole nature of fighting from a primal angle, that ego and pride and passion are all intertwined when it comes to competing against another human being, to see who is the better combatant. In prize fighting however, there’s no place for it. Why? Because in the haze of combat there are too many variables to keep track of, too many outcomes to even the slightest mistake. Relying on your ego during a fist fight, perhaps the most high risk circumstance a person can find themselves in, can prove to be fighters undoing. For Dominick Cruz it’s a lesson that he had to learn the hard way.
In the co-main event of UFC 207 we got to see Cody Garbrandt rise to the occasion. It’s interesting to note that the challenger had a tremendous ego all his own leading into the fight. When interviewed by the press Garbrandt’s simple reply was that he would knock the champion out. Things didn’t quite turn out as he expected, yet his prideful boasts was something that he thrived on. For Dominick Cruz however, it was nothing but hubris. It must be noted that Cruz has been one of my favorite fighters simply for the fact that he never played into his opponent’s game. Rather than get swept up in the moment, look to trade leather and risk it all, he would always choose to take precaution and play to his strengths. Staying on the outside, being unpredictable, these are the qualities that make Dominick Cruz a cut above the rest.
Standing toe to toe with an opponent has never been what made Cruz great. He was superior because he wasn’t like those other “sluggers” who decide to stay in the pocket a trade blows. Cruz has been all about being elusive, making fighters miss, then making them pay. The Dominick Cruz that battled Cody Garbrandt for the bantamweight belt was not the same man we saw out dueling TJ Dillashaw in January. Instead we saw a man willing to trade blows, willing to stay in the pocket and trade leather. In other words, an ordinary fighter.
Cody Garbrandt on the other hand proved that ego can in fact sharpen a fighter’s skills. Rather than rush forward and look for the finish, Garbrandt instead fought a patient and balanced fight. Despite the fact that he’d been campaigning for a knock out for weeks before their fight, Garbrandt showed more maturity than he led on. With the raw power in his favor he didn’t have to look for the knock out and simply waited for his moments to shine. Cody slipped, he ripped, and he made Cruz pay for every time he remained in the pocket.
Dominick Cruz endeavored to knock the challenger out, something completely uncharacteristic of the bantamweight king. He believed Cody was emotionally invested in the bout, that the young gun would fold under the pressure. But you can’t help but feel that the now former bantamweight champion fell prey to the very ideology that he accused the young Garbrandt of possessing. Ego and pride may get you to the top. It may even keep you there. But as the old saying goes, pride goes before the fall.
Dominick Cruz was a great champion, a true inspiration. To come back from three ACL surgeries and once again capture UFC gold took pride. It took ego. But it also took humility. It was hard to watch such an intelligent fighter like Cruz throw caution to the wind and stand in front of Garbrandt hoping to test his mettle. Ego returned Cruz to the throne yet it also caused his downfall. It will be that same unruly mistress that will get him back to the top of the mountain. I still think ego is useless come fight time. But it is ego that will carry Cruz back to the top of the mountain. Like it or not, it’s a balancing act that can be the difference between glory and defeat.