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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Fight Night 152’s Rafael dos Anjos

Rafael dos Anjos Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight kingpin, Rafael dos Anjos, will go to war with yet another powerful wrestler, Kevin Lee, this Saturday (May 18, 2019) at UFC Fight Night 152 from inside Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, New York.

Dos Anjos’ move to Welterweight started off so well. A clean victory over Tarec Saffiedine introduced the recently dethroned champion to the Top 10, where a quick submission win over Neil Magny earned “RDA” a shot at Robbie Lawler. With both veterans gunning for a title shot, it was the Brazilian who dominated, shutting out his “Ruthless” foe and destroying his lead leg. Then, it all went wrong. Matched consecutively with the division’s twin pair of non-stop, grinding, elite wrestlers, dos Anjos was forced on his back foot and made uncomfortable for 50 straight minutes. “RDA” will take a slight step back in competition here against a fellow former Lightweight, but the style match up does him no favors once again.

Let’s take a closer look at the former champion’s skill set:


While dos Anjos may no longer work with Rafael Cordeiro, his years training with the former Chute Box instructor have permanently influenced his approach. Despite not having a crazy number of knockouts on his record or true one-punch power, dos Anjos breaks opponents by applying constant pressure, completely unafraid to stalk his opponent and fire his way into the pocket.

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 the 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 stances 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).

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. Unfortunately, his bad habits still cost him a lot of time on the fence against both “Chaos” and Kamaru Usman.


Dos Anjos is a rather solid wrestler with the unfortunate luck of facing quite a few tremendously talented wrestlers in recent years — has anyone ever faced a trio of wrestlers more suffocating than Nurmagomedov, Covington, and Usman in the history of mixed martial arts (MMA)? It doesn’t seem likely.

Offensively, 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. The double leg shot along the fence is his real goal, a simple enough shot that can be finished on just about anyone if timed correctly. 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.

Even in his losses to great wrestlers, dos Anjos has shown his skill. Against Covington in particular, “RDA” was rarely contained on the mat for very long, always forcing his way back up against a man who’s generally excellent at keeping opponent’s trapped on the mat. Faced with the monstrous strength of Nurmagomedov and Usman, however, dos Anjos was less able to create scrambles and found himself trapped for longer periods of time.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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.

While dangerous from his back, dos Anjos’ 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.

In this week’s technique highlight, we analyze posture within the guard, and how that pressure can create openings.

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 generally difficult to control dos Anjos for an extended period of time.


At this point, dos Anjos has beaten everyone he’s faced at 170 pounds except the top-two ranked wrestlers. With the division evolving and dos Anjos growing older, “RDA” has to prove that his position near the top is still deserved. Lee makes for an odd match up in that regard, as we really don’t know where “The MoTown Phenom” fits into the mix at Welterweight. One thing is for certain however, as dos Anjos must pull through here if he’s to continue getting relevant match ups and headlining events.

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.

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