UFC 225: The Talk is Over for Dos Anjos and Covington

Rafael dos Anjos UFC
Rafael dos Anjos Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

Rafael dos Anjos has been knocking on the door of a title shot, but he will have to answer the noise of Colby Covington before getting a shot at the undisputed title.

Former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos has re-invented himself as a welterweight to get to the cusp of a UFC title in a second weight class.  Colby Covington rides a five fight win-streak, and a controversial wave of trash talk, to become the latest villain in the world of mixed martial arts.  Both men have been vying for a shot at dominant champion Tyron Woodley and it is expected that their collision will generate the hype to make their welterweight title shot an epic collision later this year.

Rafael dos Anjos will compete for a title, albeit interim, in a second weight class in his tenth year in the company.  A veteran of the UFC since 2008, dos Anjos has amassed an impressive 17 victories inside the Octagon.  Since 2012, his only losses came at lightweight against championship caliber fighters in Tony Ferguson, Khabib Nurmagomedov, and Eddie Alvarez.  And yet, he continues to fly under the radar as one of the best fighters in the world today.  Perhaps it is the fact that it took time to appreciate his evolving skills.  He entered the UFC as primarily a grappler who was stopped in dominant fashion several times, but in recent years has become one of the more dangerous multi-faceted martial artists in the promotion.

His five fight win-streak in 2014 stands as the best stretch of his career with victories recorded against Nate Diaz, Benson Henderson, Anthony Pettis, and Donald Cerrone.  While he hit a rough patch in losing the title, his move up to 170 pounds has given his career a second life as he finds himself on the cusp of winning the title after defeating Robbie Lawler, Neil Magny, and Tarec Saffiedine.  According to Dana White, the fight with Lawler was supposed to be a title eliminator.  But, Woodley’s absence has led to this new match-up for the interim belt against Covington.

While there have been countless trash talkers in MMA, few have ever come close to the level of crassness of Colby “Chaos” Covington.  His comments have ranged from the petty, such as tweeting out spoilers to anticipated films like Star Wars and The Avengers, to derogatory, such as personal insults aimed at the girlfriend of welterweight contender Mike Perry.  His comments reached a fever pitch last year in São Paolo, where after defeating Demian Maia he continued to taunt the Brazilian crowd to the point that it incited violence as fans threw beer and other objects as he exited the cage.

Such is the level of his public persona, that it is forgotten that he holds an 8-1 record in the  UFC going back to 2014.  He is currently on a five fight win-streak and his victory over Maia came at a time when the Brazilian had recently competed for the world title.  At a time when several contenders are on impressive win-streaks, Covington’s approach has made him the first fighter of the new wave to earn a shot at gold.  Should he be victorious against dos Anjos, it’s expected that his post-fight comments on the stage in Chicago will lead to a surge of interest for the unification bout with Woodley.

Stylistically, dos Anjos must find a way to stop the forward pressure of Covington. “Chaos” has been largely successful by getting in behind heavy punches at a pace that exhausts opponents and his wrestling provides him the added threat of being able to control the fight on the mat.  For the Brazilian, the key will be to use his versatile attack to keep Covington at bay.  Dos Anjos has a powerful arsenal of kicks and should look to use them to slow down Covington’s forward pressure.  If he is successful, it stands to reason that he will be able to slow down the American over time and will be able to open up to do more damage in the later rounds.  Should he end up on the ground, he should look to tie-up Covington and try to force a stand-up as quickly as possible to neutralize the oncoming attack.

For Covington, he should look to come forward and punish dos Anjos against the fence.  Lawler found success during his fight using the strategy and if Covington can avoid taking damage coming in, he should be able to utilize the game plan to even greater effect.  Should he look to take the fight to the ground, he should seek to maintain a steady pace of ground-and-pound to prevent dos Anjos from setting up submissions from the guard.

It has been no secret that Tyron Woodley is seeking the biggest fight possible after years of work in the welterweight division.  It’s expected that either dos Anjos will look like a more serious threat following a win over Covington, or that Covington’s star will skyrocket and the fight for the title becomes one of the biggest events for the year.  Much has been said between the two, but on Saturday both men will put their words aside and finally meet inside the cage.