Once again, Kamaru Usman failed to find a finish. But after five dominant rounds that left opponent Rafael dos Anjos bloodied at the TUF 28 Finale, ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ had again proven a formidable foe for any welterweight.
While the TUF 28 finale was a big night for the show’s finalists, it was also key for the welterweight division. Kamaru Usman was tasked with facing former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos, who came close to a second title but ultimately fell short against Colby Covington at UFC 225 with interim gold on the line.
A shot at gold was potentially on the line Friday, though nothing was written in stone. Still, both men needed to fight like it was. dos Anjos stayed outside early, circling away, looking to keep the wrestler Usman at a distance. That didn’t last; Usman made his way in and initiated a clinch. RDA, however, fought his way free, and brought the action back out to the center. Usman, meanwhile, used strikes to set up level changes, then secured a takedown by catching a kick.
If there was a bright spot for Rafael dos Anjos, it’s that he made it back to his feet. But the ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ stalked him, walking forward, throwing heavy punches to clear a path inside. Once there, Usman dropped for a takedown attempt. dos Anjos opted to defend with a guillotine, but stayed standing. For a time. In the final minute he was on his back once again. Usman, on top, fired off elbows, but dos Anjos may have caught his attention with an upkick.
Round two saw Usman driving dos Anjos into the fence. The fight stayed on the feet through the first two minutes, but in terms of moral victories, it was a small one. RDA’s back was still on the cage, Usman was still in control. And seconds later he was on top, working the body with punches, though contending with elbows on the bottom from a busy dos Anjos.
dos Anjos would attack Usman’s arm off his back, a flash of offense in an otherwise dangerous position. The Brazilian proved he still maintained considerable submission skills, coming close with a kimura before Usman rolled free. Back on the feet, dos Anjos began to battle back, firing kicks low and high, briefly backing Usman up.
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RDA was bloodied, but had managed to take momentum briefly in the second. In the third, however, Usman was once again pressing forward, launching haymakers, then looking for a takedown. dos Anjos was defending better than most, but better than most still wasn’t cutting it. He was down within ninety seconds, with four takedowns for Usman to that point in the fight. Even coming back up, dos Anjos was in danger, eating a knee from Kamaru Usman.
Another takedown then. dos Anjos seemed to consider another kimura attempt next. He went for it, Usman pulled his arm free, but dos Anjos had reversed, and moved back up with Usman’s back to the fence. Despite the effort expended on multiple submission attempts (and despite the the damage incurred), dos Anjos would survive, with the duo going to round four.
The championship rounds were going to be trying for Rafael dos Anjos. Usman was clearly the fresher fighter. And before long, RDA was on his back, cuts flowing again. He proved game, working his way back up, but gave up his back in the process. Usman slipped one hook in, but settled on a bit of ground and pound, rather than looking for a submission. Yet despite maintaining control, he could not finish the former lightweight champion.
Still, round five played out in similar fashion, and there was no question who was ahead. dos Anjos needed a Hail Mary to have any hope of a win. He’d try for it in the form of a mid-round guillotine attempt, but with his body out of position, it was never close. Usman then rained down hammer fists from the top, further tenderizing Rafael dos Anjos.
“I said I’m a man on a mission. I got into this sport, and I made a statement. I’m coming for that welterweight strap,” Usman said after the victory. “We got one more step baby, we want that strap.”
Saying he was tired of talking/callouts, Usman added that he hope he had showed that “not only can I go five rounds, but I can dominate. And I’m next in line for that welterweight strap.”
Kamaru Usman def. Rafael dos Anjos by unanimous decision (50-43, 49-45, 48-47)