TUF 28 Finale: Usman and Dos Anjos Looking to Clear Final Hurdle

Kamaru Usman UFC
Kamaru Usman Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

Kamaru Usman is on the best win-streak in the welterweight division but former lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos stands in his way at The Ultimate Fighter 28 Finale.

In a year that introduced several new contenders to the welterweight title picture, Kamaru Usman is looking to finally have the performance that erases any doubt that he should be next in line for the title.  Rafael dos Anjos, after a decade and a half as a professional, is looking at what could be his last best chance to win a world championship again while his abilities remain at the elite level.  The two will collide at The Ultimate Fighter 28 Finale in the final major showcase for the welterweight division in 2018.

Kamaru Usman’s resume speaks for itself. A professional since 2012, “The Nigerian Nightmare” burst onto the scene by winning the The Ultimate Fighter: American Top Team vs Blackzilians in 2015.  Since then, he has accumulated an impressive 8-0 record in the UFC which at the moment is the longest win streak in the weight class.  In September, he was also pegged as an alternate by the UFC to compete for the welterweight title had either Tyron Woodley or Darren Till fallen out of their bout.

Perhaps the only thing holding Usman back is that he has been unable to deliver a spectacular finish in big moments.  Usman has put together the majority of his UFC run in workmanlike fashion.  He was able to score a first round knockout over Sergio Moraes last year that alerted many to his presence, but in subsequent appearances has produced lackluster results.  Normally, his numbers would speak for themselves.  But marketing is just as important as winning when it comes to getting a title shot and Usman has found himself passed over in lieu of performers and personalities like Colby Covington and Till.

His opponent, former lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos, is looking to bounce back from a disappointing five round performance against top contender Colby Covington in June for the interim welterweight championship.  Prior to the bout, many felt that dos Anjos had already secured a title shot after his 3-0 mark in 2017 but Covington generated enough attention to have the UFC book the fight.

While dos Anjos is far from done should he lose, it stands to reason that his time as a potential title challenger (at least at welterweight) would be over.  Santiago Ponzinibbio is surging through the division as well and ONE Championship’s Ben Askren will be entering the UFC in January.  It would likely be more than a year at the earliest if RDA were to fight for the title and in the interim he would have to turn back perennially ranked fighters looking to use his name to get to the top five.

Stylistically, Usman figures to be the more powerful and explosive fighter and should look to use his physicality to pressure dos Anjos.  On the feet he can look to pick apart the Brazilian with counters at mid-range or implement the same strategy as Covington did by pushing him to the fence and wearing him down in the clinch.  Should Usman get the fight to the ground, he figures to have the ability to keep the fight on mat even against a seasoned grappler like Dos Anjos.

Dos Anjos by comparison must attack with his full arsenal.  He has phenomenal kicks that he should use to take away Usman’s mobility.  Despite the threat of the takedown, he can’t be afraid to mix up his strikes with kicks and punches as it will make it difficult for Usman to anticipate him and thus more hesitant to close the distance or go for a takedown.  Also, he should look to set up opportunities for his own takedown and test Usman’s prowess off of his back.

As it stands, it appears that Tyron Woodley will defend his title against Colby Covington in March at the earliest.  For Kamaru Usman, an impressive finish figures to secure a title should should he choose to wait until the second half of 2019.  If he fails to produce action, it is possible that he will need to face Santiago Ponzinibbio as the Argentinian is riding his own impressive win-streak and a knockout of Neil Magny earlier this month.  For Rafael dos Anjos, a victory would put him back in the title hunt but still likely one more win away before he can fight for the belt.