Bellator will once more pack the ballroom at Caesar's in Atlantic City this Friday night with screaming fight fans, and though the main card sports such star power as champ Zach Makovsky, Marcos Galvao and Alexis Vila, there's a hellagood undercard there just ripe for the picking for those who go to www.Spike.com or show up in person - an undercard featuring studs like ex-champ Lyman Good and ex-TUFer Kris McCray, plus others. But one name on the prelims who should not be overlooked is Plinio Cruz. A glance at the Brazilian's record may not stir up much excitement; however, if you dig just a little bit beneath the surface, you'll find a badass. Here, let me help you with the digging...
A jiu-jitsu brown belt under the legendary Jorge "Macaco" Patino, Cruz has long been one of the top dogs at the Newark-based Gold Team Fighters, and you can often find him teaching MMA at various spots in and around the metro New York area. But don't for a second think that Cruz is all about fighting in pajamas - he's always been a striker, more apt to trade, slug it out and knee opponent's to death than to hunt for takedowns. In his first at-bat when he came to the US, he took a decision over Jay Silva, and subsequent wins were earned over the hard-hitting Ariel Sepulveda at a ROC event and over wrestler John Doyle at an M-1 Global installment. And if not for a couple errant kicks to Tyson Jeffries' junk (and the inevitable point deduction), Cruz would've made it to the finals of an M-1 Global tournament, if not won the whole damn thing.
His losses have, of course, come against some bad dudes. UFC fighter Rafael Natal once tapped him out, he was dropped by M-1 Global tournament finalist Mike Geurin (who's pretty much carved out of wood), and when Cruz went to Russia, Magomed Sultanakhmedov - who is currently M-1 Global's middleweight champ and an absolute KO machine - put him away. But Cruz has consistently remained one of the Northeast's toughest and most dangerous 185-pounders.
On Friday, Duane Bastress will be the other man in the cage against Cruz, and though Bastress is coming off a win via cut over Daniel Gracie, I'd say the odds are in our boy Plinio's favor. Because there's going to be a stand-up exchange, then another, then another, and Cruz is eventually going to find an opening to put Bastress away. That's usually what he does. Don't believe me? Tune in and see for yourself.