Lightweight legend Rafael Dos Anjos will look to continue his resurgence this Saturday evening (July 9, 2022) when he meets Rafael Fiziev atop Ultimate Fighting Championship’s (UFC) latest show at its eponymous APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“RDA” sits at 2-0 in his former stomping grounds after hitting a wall at 170, and so far it’s like he never left. His trademark blend of relentless pressure, heavy hands, and overpowering grappling have once again propelled him to the cusp of title contention. That final step requires him to get past one of the new generation’s flag-bearers in Fiziev, though, and the million-dollar question is whether the 37-year-old Brazilian can still stay afloat in the Lightweight shark tank.
Let’s see how well he swims ...
Dos Anjos could be considered the prototype of what has since become Kings MMA’s signature striking style: pressure, pressure, pressure. His booming left body kick and equally potent left hand have long since established themselves as some of the division’s fiercest weapons, making up for what they may lack in one-shot power with debilitating and lasting damage.
There’s a whole lot more to his striking than just moving forward, of course. Outside of the bottomless cardio and absurd durability that make him nigh-impossible to slow down, his variety really shines. He does a great job of mixing his straight shots and his more looping shots, peppering with crisp jabs and crosses until his opponent’s guard tightens enough to sneak in an overhand, roundhouse kick, or crunching body shot.
This misdirection allowed him to land what was nearly a fight-ending head kick on recent foe Renato Moicano, and when combined with the constant threat of his wrestling, it becomes inordinately difficult to get any sustained offense going against him. Even the pressure itself has some depth to it; he’s sufficiently seasoned to know when to cede ground and reset in the face of return fire, and his cage cutting his good enough that he doesn’t need to claw for every inch of real estate.
When he’s the hammer, it’s dazzling. Not so much when he’s the nail. Dos Anjos just does not deal well with straight punches and uppercuts. He’s got good head movement and countering skills in general, but he struggles to get away from jabs and combos, a byproduct of both his offensively-oriented striking style and wide guard. While we’re far removed from the brain-rattling onslaught that Eddie Alvarez used to wrest the title from him, Moicano put together a late rally and pieced Dos Anjos up in the waning seconds after getting beaten pillar to post beforehand.
Luckily for him, he presents so many variables that opponents can be too caught up in trying to figure out his next move to capitalize on his defensive shortcomings. It’s when he gets backed up that issues arise.
Dos Anjos’ wrestling is both an effective means to bring his ground game to bear and a perfect complement to his standup.
His primary weapon is a traditional double-leg, often used when he’s forced his opponents near the fence. More impressive is how he’ll do it closer to the center. He has an excellent knack for shooting right as his opponents really commit to striking with him, leaving their hands out of position and their hips within easy grabbing distance. Even if he doesn’t always complete the shots, they give his opponent yet another thing to think about, and accuracy isn’t all-important when he can fire off well over a dozen attempts in a five-round fight.
Should the double-leg fail him, he showed off a fairly deep arsenal against Felder, including a foot sweep, high-crotch lift, and a nice run-the-pipe single-leg in the later rounds.
Generally speaking, defensive wrestling hasn’t been an issue for him at 155, where he’s not undersized and fighting grappling aces like Kamaru Usman and Michael Chiesa. The one time it’s cropped up of late was when Felder shot underneath one of his loopier left hands and got him down, at which point Dos Anjos immediately got to the fence, forced Felder’s head down, got to his feet, and separated.
Though still a decorated black belt and submission threat, as Neil Magny and Kevin Lee learned, Dos Anjos tends to pursue damage over submissions these days. He’s extremely heavy and patient on top, looking for dominant positions only to unleash a brutal elbow or left hand out of nowhere. It’s not the flashiest, but he does everything right, up to and including manipulating his opponent’s wrists to ensure they’re in no position to defend from his occasional bursts of violence.
He’ll chase a submission if it’s there, particularly the arm triangle, but he’s more interested in hurting people than making them tap.
He’s quite good at getting out of bad positions, as well, having escaped Chiesa’s back mount and avoided an early attempt from Moicano at doing the same. If you cannot physically overpower him, you’re not going to be able to hold him down.
Dos Anjos’ offensive wrestling and ability to avoid or neutralize Fiziev’s counters will be the decising factors. Fiziev’s tendency to plant his feet when firing combinations should open him up to Dos Anjos’ double-leg and the fight should swing more and more in Dos Anjos’ favor as the rounds progress, but “Ataman” packs more than enough heat to put Dos Anjos away if he can get his jab going and exploit Dos Anjos’ defensive issues. It’s much closer to a 50/50 than the odds suggest.
Patrick L. Stumberg is an MMA and boxing analyst with more than 10 years of experience. He has been refereeing and judging amateur boxing in South Texas since 2017 while also receiving certification as an MMA official.
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