Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight kingpin, Rafael dos Anjos, will square off with powerful wrestler, Kamaru Usman, in a pivotal Welterweight bout this Friday (Nov. 30, 2018) at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 28 Finale inside Pearl Theatre at Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The beginning of dos Anjos’ 170-pound run was brilliant. A pair of dominant decision victories sandwiched a quick submission win, and each victory came against a high-level competitor. It was enough to earn the former champion a shot at interim gold, but dos Anjos ultimately lost a close-but-clear decision to Colby Covington’s endless grind. Now, “RDA” will look to make a fairly quick return, but the opponent will be no easier. Again, he’ll face a decorated wrestler with a seemingly endless gas tank, and while Usman fights differently than “Chaos,” there’s little doubt he will look to employ a similar strategy.
Let’s take a closer look at dos Anjos’ skill set:
dos Anjos may no longer work with Rafael Cordeiro, but the Muay Thai master’s influence remains more than obvious. Despite not having a crazy number of knockouts on his record or true one-punch power, dos Anjos loves to push his way into the pocket and pressure foes, forcing exchanges while they’re on their heels.
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 gameplan that relied on pressure opposite Pettis. At range, dos Anjos did several very intelligent things opposite Pettis. Immediately, dos Anjos followed his gameplan 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, particularly if he timed Pettis circling into his power.
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 and Robbie Lawler 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. Most notably, dos Anjos backed Lawler into the fence and kept him there for long portions of the fight. Once in that position, dos Anjos chopped the lead leg, dug hooks to the body, and generally kept Lawler on the defensive (GIF).
Physicality is an important part of pressure fighting, and it’s part of the reason dos Anjos’ Welterweight success is unique. Bullying opponents relies on strength and power punching, which fighters tend to lose against men larger than them. Against a true Welterweight bruiser in Lawler, dos Anjos looked great.
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.
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’ issues largely arise when he is not the one pressuring. From his own back foot, “RDA” struggles to take angles, often backing straight up and leaving himself vulnerable to shots and punches alike. Covington exploited this flaw ruthlessly. Though dos Anjos knew what had to be done and sometimes did it — a couple times, dos Anjos pivoted off at an angle and ripped Covington with hard body kicks or hooks that were beautiful — his bad habits still cost him a lot of time on the fence.
Once a grappling specialist, dos Anjos has always been at the very least a decent wrestler, but this is another area in which he’s improved quite a bit.
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. 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 just that.
Usually, dos Anjos will spring toward his opponents’ 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.
Despite the loss to Covington, dos Anjos proved just how good his defensive wrestling has become. Covington scored a few takedowns in the 25-minute fight, sure, but all of them were brief. “RDA” did a great job of consistently fighting hands and wall-walking whenever his sprawl failed him, which was not often.
A long-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with experience in competitive grappling, 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 finish. In this week’s technique highlight, we talk about that victory:
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.
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 just lost to one of the division’s new generation of elite wrestlers, and now he faces the other. As such, this is a hugely important fight for dos Anjos, one that largely determines if he has any shot at ever capturing the Welterweight title. It’s a difficult style match up for the generalist to overcome, but “RDA” has always been good at adapting as needed.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter 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.