Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight champ, Rafael dos Anjos, will continue his drive towards the Welterweight strap opposite former kingpin, Robbie Lawler, this Saturday (Dec. 16, 2017) at UFC on FOX 26 inside Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, Canada.
It’s been little more than one year since dos Anjos lost to Tony Ferguson, a weight cut and defeat that caused the Brazilian to jump ship to Welterweight. He made his 170-pound debut back in June, a fight that saw “RDA” show no signs of being out-sized as he bullied Tarec Saffiedine for three rounds. He followed that up with a first-round submission over Neil Magny, and suddenly dos Anjos is in title contention. It’s all happened shockingly fast to be honest, as dos Anjos will now face off with a former champion in a potential title eliminator.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Dos Anjos began his career as a grappler but saw massive improvements to his Muay Thai under the tutelage of Rafael Cordeiro, as well as with the many Muay Thai veterans of Evolve MMA. He has since parted ways with the legendary coach, but dos Anjos has continued to showcase his aggressive pressure striking.
Working out of the Southpaw stance, dos Anjos understands how he matches up against his foe's stance and chooses his strikes wisely. For example, Anthony Pettis chose to stand Orthodox opposite "RDA," which allowed dos Anjos to repeatedly fire off body kicks with no set up and step into clinch knees. Against a fellow Southpaw in Benson Henderson, dos Anjos instead ripped at him with quick switch kicks and hard outside low kicks.
These adjustments sound simply enough, but many fighters are far less comfortable against certain stances. As with the rest of his game, dos Anjos adjusts to the individual opponent quite well. While he may adjust his style based on opponent, pressure is a constant factor in dos Anjos’ fights. The man comes at his opponent with the intention of forcing him to fold, and very often his opponent does just that.
To first earn his title, dos Anjos executed a masterful game plan that relied on pressure opposite Pettis. At range, dos Anjos did several very intelligent things opposite Pettis. Immediately, dos Anjos followed his game plan and began to pressure his opponent into the fence, and an early explosion into a sharp straight left hand -- the most valuable punch in Southpaw-Orthodox exchanges -- forced his opponent to respect his striking.
Then, dos Anjos made full use of his kicks. While few men can match Pettis in pure kicking ability, dos Anjos took advantage of the opening to Pettis' mid-section provided by their opposite stance and dug into his opponent's body early and often. Dos Anjos kicks hard, and these body kicks did wonders to slow down Pettis and limit his circling. Pettis fired off kicks of his own, but dos Anjos’ cage position generally allowed him to land the more effective blows.
Though less significant overall, dos Anjos also worked on Pettis' lead leg throughout the fight. He snapped off a few outside kicks to prevent Pettis' circling away from his power, and his right hook served a similar purpose (GIF). Plus, dos Anjos did further damage by ripping inside kicks once Pettis was against the fence and trying to counter, as Pettis had his feet planted and could do little but absorb the blow. As Nate Diaz can attest, dos Anjos' low kick can quickly turn a leg to jelly (GIF).
At Welterweight, dos Anjos’ work against the fence has proven just as effective. Saffiedine is a sound kickboxer with strong wrestling, but dos Anjos’ ability to choose his strikes wisely and hide takedowns worked just fine. In this week’s technique highlight, we took a look at why dos Anjos’ chooses his weapons along the fence and how they help keep his foe in place.
Dos Anjos' left cross/overhand has become remarkably strong in the last couple years (GIF). It’s generally easier to land the power hand against foes in the opposite stance, but dos Anjos found a home on Henderson’s chins repeatedly.
While the jab is not normally a staple of Southpaw-Orthodox exchanges, dos Anjos used a hard jab not to merely control distance, but to measure Pettis' attempts to circle. By simply keeping the jab on him, dos Anjos ensured Pettis was still within range of other strikes and keeping his hands up, which allowed dos Anjos' to commonly dig to the body or look for a double-leg takedown.
Physicality is an important part of pressure fighting, and it’s part of why dos Anjos’ Welterweight success is unique. Bullying opponents relies strength and power punching, which fighters tend to lose against men larger than them. Against a true Welterweight bruiser in Lawler, it will be interesting to see if he can force his game opposite the “Ruthless” fighter.
Getting hit is a part of pressure fighting. It's a fact of the matter, as the pressure fighter has to come forward and force the issue. However, dos Anjos does an excellent job keeping his non-punching arm tight to his chin in exchanges, hiding behind the shoulder of his punching arm, and trying to get off the center line with his left. Additionally, he occasionally reaches out to grab/control one of his opponent’s arms as he closes range, limiting his opponent's offensive choices.
Dos Anjos' background is grappling, so his takedowns have never been awful. However, he's refined this aspect of his game significantly over the course of his UFC career, becoming a far stronger offensive and defensive wrestler.
Dos Anjos relies heavily on the double leg takedown (GIF). He rarely looks for much else, using single-leg takedowns only to transition into the double. In fact, he rarely looks for takedowns other than double legs against the fence, where he's become fluid with the finish and his physical strength is a large advantage.
While the double-leg against the cage is perhaps the most high-percentage takedown in the sport, it's also not that complicated. In order to work that shot on elite opponents like Pettis or Donald Cerrone, dos Anjos has to force his opponents' defenses up high.
Luckily, "RDA's" aggressive striking largely forces them to.
Usually, dos Anjos will spring towards his opponent's hips after forcing them to cover up under a sea of punches or by slipping a counter shot. Similarly, dos Anjos will drop down into the shot from the clinch or double-collar tie (GIF). In one more rare and awesome example, dos Anjos used an upward elbow to stand Pettis tall before dropping into a shot.
Defensively, dos Anjos is a pretty sound wrestler. He has a quick, powerful sprawl and generally uses the fence very well. While his forward movement can occasionally allow his opponent to get in on his hips -- such as when he fought Jason High and tried to take his head off from the beginning -- he's usually able to return to his feet without much difficulty.
The only recent exception to this is his bout against Khabib Nurmagomedov. The Sambo specialist was able to chain together takedowns in the clinch and drag dos Anjos down. From there, Nurmagomedov's top control is air tight, and dos Anjos was not able to do much.
A long-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with experience in grappling competition, dos Anjos is one of the best grapplers in whatever division he chooses to compete. Nine of his professional victories have come via tapout, including his most recent.
While dangerous from his back, his top game is even better. Utilizing a pressure passing game, dos Anjos likes to cut his knee through his opponent's guard. While maintaining heavy top pressure, dos Anjos will land small strikes as he drives through the guard. Once he's in a dominant position, he is very active with his submission attempts.
Dos Anjos also does spectacular work from inside the guard. He does an excellent job keeping hip pressure on his opponents, which makes throwing up submissions difficult. Since his opponent cannot easily adjust his hips on the bottom, dos Anjos is able to pick his shots around their defense with sharp punches and slicing elbows. If his opponent gets a bit more desperate to open up the guard and create space, dos Anjos will stack his foe and batter him.
It's simply difficult to move underneath the Brazilian's pressure.
The Brazilian's go-to submission is his kimura. Whether he's on top or bottom, dos Anjos is looking to isolate an arm and secure it. Once he secures the grip, he'll look to move into north-south and finish the hold, trapping his opponent's head with his knees. If he cannot break the grip and crank on his opponent's shoulder, he'll instead sit back into an armbar (GIF).
Dos Anjos will also look for the rear-naked choke whenever his opponent turtles up. He's is quick to hop onto the back and will aggressively pursue his opponent's neck from there (GIF).That's a description true of most jiu-jitsu fighters, but dos Anjos' game is a bit deeper, as he also very nearly secured a calf slicer from back mount on Tyson Griffin back in 2009.
“RDA’s” top control opposite Neil Magny was pretty flawless. He landed in side control after the leg sweep, and the Brazilian methodically advanced into mount. Once there, he kept his hips low and grapevined the legs to establish position. After resisting Magny’s attempts to buck him off, dos Anjos slid into a high mount where it’s difficult to bridge. A hard elbow encouraged Magny to hip escape, allowing dos Anjos to capture his head-and-arm. Once the choke was in, dos Anjos slid into side control and dropped his shoulder, quickly ending the bout (GIF).
From his back, dos Anjos is a very skilled grappler. He utilizes several guards such as the open guard, deep half, and De la Riva guard. Dos Anjos transitions between these positions very well, using them to create distance and keep his opponent off-balance, meaning that it's hard to land effective strikes from the top. In addition, "RDA" is constantly looking for an opportunity to kick off his opponent during his transitions, allowing him to return to his feet.
While on his back, dos Anjos will hunt for his kimura, while also throwing up triangle and arm bar attempts. Since he's so active with submissions, sweeps and stand up attempts, it's rather difficult to control dos Anjos for an extended period of time.
Dos Anjos is likely just one more win away from a showdown with Tyron Woodley. That’s an interesting match up considering that Woodley already loves to put his back on the fence, a position from which “RDA” excels. If he can secure that match up, dos Anjos has a real chance to add his name to the growing list of two-division champions.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an amateur champion who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.