As is expected of anyone with a grappling background in Mixed Martial Arts, Rafael Dos Anjos (27-9, MMA, 16-7 UFC) did not start his UFC career as a world class striker. With wins over some of the greatest Lightweight strikers of his generation in Donald Cerrone, Anthony Pettis, and Benson Henderson, Dos Anjos is an elite striker in the eyes of many. Under the striking tutelage of world class coach Rafael Cordeiro, Dos Anjos went from a grappler who strikes, to a dominant, well rounded fighter, often pressuring his opponents to the cage, and often keeping them there with strings of punishing combinations.
In his most recent bouts, it is the grappler’s striking that has won him the attention of the martial arts media as well as the that of the UFC’s top brass. After amassing an 8-1 streak in the promotion Dos Anjos was granted a title shot against Anthony “Showtime” Pettis (20-7 MMA, 7-6 UFC), a wizard at striking who could grapple with the best of the organization. Because Dos Anjos was a heavy underdog, not many had him beating the “Showtime” fighter. What resulted was one of the most one-sided title fights in the division’s history, with Dos Anjos winning all five rounds in decisive manner.
RDA’s most definitive striking tool is surely his power body kick. Using it to punish Jason High (21-6 MMA, 2-3 UFC) early in their bout, seeing him throw it is an indicator that he wants to pressure his opponent by inducing fatigue. Paired with the kick is always a step or two backward from the opponent, to which Dos Anjos responds by pressing forward, gaining inches towards the fence on each exchange. Landing four body kicks within the first minute of his championship bout against Pettis, Dos Anjos had his opponent against the fence for the majority of the first round, mixing his body kicks with combinations to the head. In RDA’s subsequent match against Donald Cerrone, more of the same. After absorbing a knee to the body (to which Cerrone stepped backwards), Dos Anjos landed a flush body kick which folded Cerrone, then sent him careening to the fence with a violent combination of punches.
Willing to stand and trade with any fighter the UFC puts before him, the second tool that RDA employs for his pressure fighting is his excellent punching skill. Not necessarily using boxing, as his style is more reflective of a Muay Thai style of punching, RDA is able to attack from all angles. Fighting as a southpaw, RDA can set up his left leg and body kicks to torque his body and load substantial power into the strikes following those kicks. When caught off guard and defending strikes, RDA is quick to raise his forearms up to protect his face, not fearing a take down as his defensive grappling is among the best in the division. However, the high guard of RDA is not impervious, as Eddie Alvarez (28-5-1 MMA, 3-2-1 UFC) was able to sneak a punch around his guard in their match, finishing the Brazilian after a series of flurries.
Dos Anjos’ overhand left is one of his more daunting techniques. Using it often to stun his opponents and reset his position, very few fighters have been able to absorb it without effect. Because the overhand makes Dos Anjos vulnerable to counters, he is likely to use it as a counter himself or to punctuate combinations. What RDA’s striking lacks in power, he makes up for in volume and ferocity, usually draining an opponent’s will to fight by piling on pressure and combinations.
The former Lightweight Champion’s grappling pedigree has become somewhat forgotten since he started dominating his opponents in the striking arena. Using it to supplement his superb striking, it is not uncommon to see Dos Anjos land a sharp combination with his hands, pushing his opponent back, then shoot for a take down once the fight has reached the fence. On the ground, RDA is able to employ several tools to ensure that he remains in dominant position, hiding his scrambles with punches from top position, wrapping the legs to avoid escape, and holding his opponents to the cage to prevent them from trying to stand. In Dos Anjos’ most recent fight, against Neil Magny, he was able to kick Magny’s feet from underneath him and send him to the ground. On the ground, Dos Anjos was able to maintain his position by holding Magny’s head to the mat and punishing him with elbows during every scramble attempt. After taking mount position, RDA applied an arm triangle choke to get the submission victory.
Despite the change from fighting at Lightweight to Welterweight (170 lbs), Dos Anjos has not suffered in the unfamiliar territory, already on a 2-fight win streak in the division. While unclear if Dos Anjos can compete with the best of the division, Dos Anjos is already a fantastic gatekeeper, and only his future fights can indicate if he can compete at a championship level against Champion Tyron Woodley and top contender Stephen Thompson.