The Film Room: Rafael dos Anjos

By Kevin Wilson Jul 16, 2019
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The timeless Rafael dos Anjos will returns to the Octagon for the 28th time this Saturday when he takes on rising contender Leon Edwards in the UFC on ESPN 4 main event in San Antonio, Texas. At 34 years old and with 11 years in the Ultimate Fighting Championship under his belt, dos Anjos continues to fight the best the welterweight division has to offer, and a win over Edwards could put him back in title contention for perhaps the last time.

Dos Anjos steps into the spotlight in this edition of The Film Room.



Not many fighters enjoy a career resurgence after a decade in the sport, but dos Anjos is an exception. After his loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2014, dos Anjos moved his camp to Kings MMA gym to train under the legendary Rafael Cordeiro. He was already an aggressive striker, but the move to Kings MMA allowed him to perfect his pressuring style as he adopted the classic Chute Boxe attack that dominated the early days of MMA: constant pressure, ripping the body and always looking for the Thai clinch. Cordeiro’s students do not have the deepest bag of tricks, but they learn to get by on perfecting the basics and overwhelming their opponents with pressure. Dos Anjos has left Kings MMA to train under Jason Parillo, but the tactics he learned under Cordeiro are still prevalent in his game today and arguably saved his career.



Against Robbie Lawler in 2017, dos Anjos threw one of the most intense flurries you will ever see. He backed Lawler to the cage with a flying knee and for nearly 45 seconds straight proceeded to land 20-plus punches while mixing them to the body and head. More impressively, dos Anjos did not slow down at all after the flurry and kept the same intense pace for all three rounds. Dos Anjos moved up to 170 pounds after spending the majority of his career at lightweight and the difference in his cardio with no weight cut is astounding.



Dos Anjos usually works in long combinations, but he also knows how to stay patient and come forward with quick strikes before resetting at a safe distance. One of his best leading strikes is a quick kick to the body that he throws with impunity. However, when he is fighting a grappling-based opponent, these kicks vanish for fear of the takedown, which severely limits his options on the feet. Other than Eddie Alvarez and Tony Ferguson, nobody in the UFC has managed to beat dos Anjos without outgrappling him, and even at this point in his career, he is still one of the best and smartest strikers in the world.



Dos Anjos is usually the leading attacker, but he is also the master of pressure countering in MMA. Most counterstrikers work on the back foot and rely on their opponents coming forward so they can step back and unload. Although it may look like dos Anjos is flailing forward with wild hooks, he is pressuring his opponents to the cage so they have no choice but to come forward. He can get overzealous when trying to draw a reaction from the opponent, but overall, his defense is better than most. Flustered from the pressure, opponents will generally come forward recklessly, thus leaving themselves open for counters. Dos Anjos has been known to back his opponents to the cage with footwork and one-twos, and as they move forward, he steps back and counters before going back to pressuring. Edwards is a relaxed and tactical striker, so it will be interesting to see if he can deal with the relentless pressure coming his way.



Dos Anjos is truly one of the best fighters of this era and has a tremendous amount of experience for his age, but there are still some frustrating aspects to his game. His lack of kicks, especially to the legs, is of particular concern. As a fighter who relies on limiting his opponents’ movement and backing them to the cage, he should be attacking the legs consistently through a fight. Instead, his low kicks show up in certain fights and vanish in others. He has historically struggled with grapplers, but he continues to fight elite wrestlers who can take away his kicks with the threat of a takedown. Edwards is an excellent matchup for dos Anjos since he most likely will not have to worry about his grappling. Perhaps we will see the Brazilian go back to his old low kicking ways.





Since dos Anjos has become such a dominant striker, we tend to forget that he came into the UFC as a linear submission specialist; it was not until his fight with Donald Cerrone in 2013 that we saw just how dangerous he can be on the feet. Half of his first 14 wins came via submission, and recently, he relied on his grappling to take out Kevin Lee in arguably the best performance of his career. Edwards’ grappling has been surprisingly good, but it seems doubtful that he could handle dos Anjos on the ground. Advertisement

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