How Does Rafael dos Anjos Fit In The UFC Lightweight Division?
By Jack Maher
After making the move up to welterweight in 2017, Rafael dos Anjos returned to the division he once championed, with a win over short-notice opponent Paul Felder.
An initially promising start at welterweight turned sour when dos Anjos struggled with stylistically tough matchups against aggressive grapplers, and the size difference he was giving up to nearly every welterweight foe has led the Brazilian to return to lightweight.
But much has changed in the division dos Anjos used to call home.
The last time dos Anjos fought at lightweight, against Tony Ferguson in November2016, Nate Diaz, Michael Johnson, Donald Cerrone and Michael Chiesa were all ranked in the top 10.
Conor McGregor was yet to compete at lightweight in the UFC, and current top contenders Dan Hooker and Charles Oliveira were still competing at featherweight. Current #1 ranked Justin Gaejthe was still fighting outside of the UFC.
The landscape of the division has naturally changed since those days; Eddie Alvarez, who beat dos Anjos to win the lightweight title has since left the UFC. Khabib Nurmagomedov, who was seen in 2016 as an inevitable future champion, won and defended the lightweight title, and seemingly retired with his legacy secure as the best to ever do it at 155lbs.
So how does ‘RDA’ fit back in to the lightweight division?
A win over #7 ranked Felder will likely see dos Anjos return to the top 10, and the direction he takes from here will depend massively on who he is matched up against.
‘Styles make fights’ is the biggest cliché in combat sports but it is a sentiment the Brazilian veteran became all too familiar with in his time at welterweight.
One-sided grappling-heavy losses to Colby Covington and Kamaru Usman exposed the smaller 36-year-old’s weaknesses at welterweight, and now he will hope to avoid repeat performances at lightweight.
Fortunately for dos Anjos, there is a wider balance of styles in the lightweight top 15. Other than Nurmagomedov, the only top 15 lightweight fighter who really fits the dominant wrestler mould is Islam Makhachev, the originally scheduled opponent for dos Anjos at UFC Vegas 14.
dos Anjos matches up quite well with most of the other contenders at lightweight, the former champ is skilled in every offensive department, and the only fighters he consistently seems to struggle against are ones you would consider to be a specialist in grappling.
It is impossible to predict how dos Anjos will fare in his return to lightweight, especially when you consider the quality of the fighters in the division. But if Nurmagomedov sticks to his retirement and the title becomes vacant, then any fighter who currently has a foothold in the division is likely only one win away from big opportunity.
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