UFC Winnipeg may not have had the big names the FOX audience was looking for Saturday Night, but that didn’t stop it from being an awesome night of fights. All eyes were tuned in to the main event. Former lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos continued his torrid run at welterweight against former champion, Robbie Lawler. Lawler is known for his relentless knockout power which would resonate with the national audience on FOX.
The undercard lacked household names who were primed to take advantage of the spotlight Saturday Night. Santiago Ponzinibbio outlasted “Platinum” Mike Perry in a bloody war where both fighters were throwing haymakers with every ounce in their body. Featherweight Josh Emmett iced Ricardo Lamas cold in a clean but scary knockout. Emmett took the fight on short notice and missed the 145 lb. limit tipping the scales at 147.5. Emmett, gracious in victory, let Lama’s camp know he is willing to rematch as long as he has sufficient time for a full weight cut. The undercard delivered and the scene was set for the Main Event everyone was tuned in to see.
The Main Event
I have always been a huge fan of both Dos Anjos and Lawler. The big question for me would be whether Dos Anjos, former lightweight champ, would be able to handle the heat Lawler is famous for bringing. Big heavy hands and a relentless pursuit of the finish could spell trouble for the smaller Brazilian. This was a huge opportunity for Dos Anjos, who impressed me way back in 2008 when he became a victim of a highlight reel knockout from Jeremy Stephens in his UFC debut.
Why was I impressed with a fighter who got slept in his UFC debut? He systematically broke down a high profile UFC fighter for the entire fight before paying the ultimate price for a lapse in focus. Seventeen fights and seven years later, he was the UFC lightweight champion. The Underground King, Philly’s own Eddie Alvarez, eventually took the title from Dos Anjos sparking Rafael’s move up to the welterweight division. Dos Anjos has climbed the ladder again winning his first two fights at welterweight and positioning himself for Saturday Night’s test against the former champ in Lawler.
The first round went as expected. Lawler immediately took control of the center of the octagon while Dos Anjos countered with kicks to try and soften up his opponent. The strategy worked as in Rounds two and three Lawler’s leg became an issue as he tried to press forward. Dos Anjos stuck to the game plan using the clinch to keep Robbie at close range and in an effort to wear him out.
Lawler took some criticism in his previous fight with Donald Cerrone for “taking rounds off” in an effort to conserve his energy for the later rounds. I felt like Lawler being stifled earlier wasn’t a product of the experienced vet slow-rolling his challenger but of a flawless game plan from Dos Anjos. I expected the leg kicks, a traditional counter to a forward pressing striker. However, Dos Anjos’ ability to win in the clinch was a shock. It takes a great deal of strength to control the neck and have your way with a former world champion like Lawler.
A Matter of Time
As we entered the final rounds 4 and 5, I found myself waiting for Lawler to open up and overwhelm Dos Anjos, but that never happened. The leg kicks and overall grind of the fight took its toll on the veteran. Lawler had flashes, opening up for short barrages, stalking Dos Anjos in search of an opportunity to win the fight. A man with Lawler’s experience knew he was down heavy on the scorecards, and a knockout only way he could salvage a victory.
This wasn’t the same Rafael Dos Anjos that gave that opportunity away to Jeremy Stephens a decade ago. This is a seasoned, former champion himself who has shown the MMA world his ability to brilliantly weave the technical aspects of the fight game with sound striking and lethal submissions. Dos Anjos is a complete fighter in every sense of the word. He can literally take the fight anywhere and be comfortable. Saturday night his toolbox was on display as he painted himself a strong case for another UFC title shot.
Dos Anjos coasted to a decision victory over a man who was the welterweight champion only a year and a half ago. The win by itself was impressive, but the way Dos Anjos systematically broke Lawler down shows the MMA world that not only does he deserve a title shot against Tyron Woodley, but he has the strength and technical ability to be a serious challenger.
The landscape of the welterweight division is in a bit of a holding pattern. When Georges St. Pierre announced that he was surrendering the middleweight title everyone assumed Tyron Woodley’s next title defense would be against GSP. In a previous article “The Ruler is Back”, I personally agreed with the theory that the UFC would be crazy not to set up a roadmap that would eventually lead to a mega-fight between George St.Pierre and Conor McGregor for the welterweight title.
It’s possible the UFC tries to pit the brash contender, Colby Covington, against Dos Anjos next. Covington has made himself quite the name after he went on an unprecedented rant calling Brazil “filthy animals” after battering Demien Maia in an upset victory. With Woodley scheduled for shoulder surgery, it will be interesting to see if Dos Anjos is willing to wait and risk being leap-frogged by St. Pierre.
History in the making?
Regardless of whether Dos Anjos gets his title shot next or he has to add Covington to his resume, there is no doubt he is headed for a date with UFC gold. The shot at the welterweight strap will bring a career-altering opportunity. Georges St. Pierre joined Randy Couture, BJ Penn, and Conor McGregor as the only fighters in UFC history to win belts in multiple weight classes. That is a very prestigious fraternity. Dos Anjos’ showing Saturday night in Winnipeg put the world on notice he has the strength to compete with the division’s elite.
Conor McGregor coined the phrase “The Champ Champ” after knocking out Alvarez to win his 2nd title. Dos Anjos is on the same path of getting a double dose of UFC gold. That could spell trouble for Tyron Woodley.
Photo credit: MMAFighting.com