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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Vegas 78’s Rafael dos Anjos

Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight kingpin, Rafael dos Anjos, will return to action opposite knockout artist, Vicente Luque, this Saturday (Aug. 12, 2023) at UFC Vegas 78 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.

dos Anjos enters the twilight of his career far more gracefully than most. He dropped to 155 pounds for one final run at gold in 2020, and he gave Rafael Fiziev a darn good fight. When he lost, however, he admitted that the second title reign wasn’t going to happen and bounced back up to 170 pounds. At 38 years of age, “RDA” has already put on his best performances. He remains a very good fighter, however, as well as a stiff test for the majority of Welterweights on the planet.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:

LIVE! Stream UFC Vegas 79 On ESPN+

HIGH STAKES LIGHTWEIGHT MATCHUP! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to UFC APEX on Sat., Sept. 23, 2023, with a high stakes 155-pound showdown as No. 6-ranked contender, Rafael Fiziev, takes on No. 7-seeded Mateusz Gamrot. In UFC Vegas 79’s co-main event, No. 12-ranked Featherweight contender, Bryce Mitchell, steps back into the Octagon against No. 13-seeded Dan Ige.

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UFC Fight Night: Dos Anjos v Fiziev Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC


dos Anjos excels at pressuring opponents. The Southpaw is at his best when moving forward, firing combinations and blasting kicks until the takedown opens up. When it all flows together, his game is brilliant to watch.

From 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 often his opponent does just that.

In an all-time great example of pressure fighting that saw dos Anjos capture the Lightweight title, dos Anjos beat up Anthony Pettis. Immediately, dos Anjos followed his game plan at range 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 offense.

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. 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. Occasionally, dos Anjos habit of jabbing simply to keep a hand on his opponent will get him countered, but that’s the reality of pressuring forward and throwing a million punches.

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, landing combinations as he charged forward before ducking any counter punches with a takedown attempt. 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. This same issue arose in his more recent losses against Kamaru Usman and Michael Chiesa, as well as in some of Rafael Fiziev’s heaviest connections.

UFC Fight Night: Dos Anjos v Lee Photo by Michael Owens/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images


dos Anjos is a very 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)?

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, dos Anjos has to force his opponents’ defenses up high.

Luckily, “RDA’s” aggressive striking largely forces them to just that. Against opponents trying to pressure him like Covington and Lee, dos Anjos found good success in changing levels and driving with his double-leg, which was strong enough to put both wrestlers on their butts.

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. 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’ flaws again come due to his habit of backing up in a straight line. As mentioned, the double along the fence is relatively simple, and bigger men able to bully dos Anjos have historically been able to force that positioning and technique.

UFC Fight Night: Barberena v Dos Anjos Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

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. Eleven of his professional victories have come via tapout, including his most recent finishes.

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 great 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.

Historically, 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.

More recently, dos Anjos has turned to the arm-triangle choke to secure two of his Welterweight submission wins. Both Neil Magny and Kevin Lee fell to this choke, and the real cause of the submission is shoulder pressure. While advancing between dominant positions, “RDA” is constantly driving his shoulder hard into his opponent’s face and neck. At some point, his opponent’s arm will move out of position, either from a scramble or to block punches. Either way, dos Anjos’ pressure means that when the arm moves from good defensive position, his head/shoulder replaces its position, preventing his foe from tucking the elbow back down into safety (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.

UFC Fight Night: Dos Anjos v Lee Photo by Michael Owens/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images


dos Anjos is a fighter who excels from his front foot, landing hard combinations that lead into takedowns. In Luque, he faces a man who also likes to advance but is lethal at timing his opponent’s attempts to fire back. The two are going to collide in the middle of the Octagon, and it’s unclear whether dos Anjos’ combinations and wrestling are enough to overcome Luque’s power and timing.

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.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 78 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN/ESPN+) at 10 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 78: “dos Anjos vs. Luque” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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