Violence-Weight #1 Contender of 2022: Drew Dober

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Drew Dober UFC
Drew Dober, UFC Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony 2022 Credit: Alex Behunin/Cageside Press

Drew Dober entered 2022 at a low point.

The Elevation Fight Team star sported a two-fight losing streak after facing Brad Riddell, who was ranked in the top-15, and future lightweight champion Islam Makhachev. The Riddell fight in particular turned out to be another banger from Dober, as it earned him a second ‘Fight of the Night’ bonus and a third consecutive performance bonus. But Drew was not going to lie down and give up on his goals, as he stormed into 2022 with a vengeance, delivering three amazing fights, three amazing wins, and fighting his way back into the UFC lightweight top 15 (and into the number one contender’s spot in the unofficial violence-weight top 15).

The first quarter of the year saw Dober matched up with budding star Terrance McKinney. McKinney achieved the second fastest knockout in lightweight history in his debut, against a tough out in Matt Frevola no less. He earned another first round finish, this one by submission, in his sophomore effort. McKinney’s unreal explosiveness and awkward striking style would prove to be a problem for Dober as well; Terrance would end up hurting and dropping Dober with a knee to the chin in the first ten seconds of the fight.

Dober had never before gone down in his entire 20-fight UFC career. He had eaten clean strikes from the likes of Beneil Dariush, Alex Hernandez, and Brad Riddell without ever hitting the mat before. But for the first time, in March of 2022, he did. Many would consider that to be a negative. It certainly is not how fighters want to start a fight. But when it comes to the Violenceweight rankings, nothing is better than getting hurt, fighting through adversity, and winning an all-out war.

Dober’s notorious ‘Crimson Chin’ allowed him to survive the best McKinney had to offer and keep marching forward, even when he got hurt and hit the ground again, only twenty-six seconds into the fight, sixteen after the first knockdown. McKinney began to gas quickly but still landed a takedown at one point. When Drew got back to his feet though, he would not be denied. With his face swollen and bruised, Drew Dober upped the pace, putting his Elevation Fight Team training to good use as he further tired out the young prospect.

Only a half a round after being dropped twice, Drew swarmed Terrance against the fence, forced him to wilt, and got the TKO victory after dropping his opponent with a knee to the head. In a year littered with great come from behind wins, Dober versus McKinney stood out and was the best one round MMA fight of the year. Bizarrely, the fight was not granted ‘Fight of the Night’ or even ‘Performance of the Night’ honors, but in the fan’s eyes it was the most significant thing to happen on that fight card and caused both fighters’ stock to rise significantly.

Four months later the promotion matched Dober up with big hitter and submission ace Rafael Alves. His fight would steal the show once again, despite being placed on the prelims of a large PPV card with two title fights. Drew pressured Alves effectively from the very beginning; he used smart footwork hidden behind combinations to push Alves until his back hit the fence. Still, he had a difficult time landing the power shots he wanted to because, at first, he only targeted the head of the Brazilian, looking for his big knockout shot. Alves was able to utilize his lightning reflexes to slip most of those shots, or at least make it so only glancing blows landed.

Just like in the McKinney fight he had entered the cage with a monstrously explosive fighter who has a tendency to gas out. Dober and his Team Elevation cornermen recognized that fact, so after the first round they adopted pace, pressure, and especially body shots to wear down the opponent. The southpaw stance of Dober makes targeting the body a much easier proposition against orthodox fighters, of which Rafael Alves is one. Drew took full advantage of that fact in rounds two and three and as a result he largely dictated the flow of the fight after that dicey first round.

Being on the back foot the entire time limited Alves’ offense and forced him to engage in scenarios that were not to his advantage. He simply could not deal with the pace and pressure being constantly hurled at him. As a result of his technically limited but highly explosive striking game was return fire periodically with little restraint. This treated fans to some truly fierce exchanges which set the crowd noise to buzzing with a constant “ohh” sound, but the more Alves returned fire, the more he gassed.

Even when Alves landed – and he did land some breathtakingly powerful and clean punches including one of the wildest four punch combinations you will ever see – Dober did not merely survive, but he brushed those shots off like a gust of wind.

Again, most important were the body strikes. When Drew fixed his round one issues by going to the body right at the start of the second he immediately hurt Alves with the open stance round kick he threw. The Brazilian instantly showed weakness for the first time in the fight. An oft-neglected tool in MMA fighters’ arsenals, Drew Dober showed body shots are actually incredibly valuable in this sport. It took only about a dozen body shots, thrown with a variety of techniques including straight punches, round kicks, and southpaw hooks, to bring Alves to the very edge of destruction and then one more to finish him.

Of course a lot of other tools – including an iron chin, intelligent pressuring footwork, and slick combination punching – were necessary just to land so many shots against such a quick and powerful striker, but the tactical choice to land those shots won the fight in the end. The final shot of the fight from Dober was a straight right hand which dropped Alves into the fetal position ninety seconds into the final round, extending the knockout streak to two and earning both fighters a ‘Fight of the Night’ bonus, as Drew could not be denied a second time in a row.

 

On the last UFC card of the year Dober got one final bout in, this time against fellow longtime veteran Bobby Green. The bout received attention as one of the most highly anticipated three rounds Violenceweight fights of the year and was a fight which inserted them both into the exclusive club of fighters who have competed twenty times in the UFC.

Green has had something of a career rejuvenation of late, just like Drew Dober; his slick boxing style has always garnered praise but only recently did he start consistently earning performance bonuses, gathering three in his five most recent fights after the same amount in his previous fifteen. ‘King’ Green also got his first knockout since 2013 – his first ever without controversy in the UFC – when he dropped and stopped Al Iaquinta in the opening stanza. Most importantly, Bobby set and broke his single-fight significant strike record, first with 143 against top contender Rafael Fiziev and then with 188 against Nasrat Haqparast, absurdly high averages of 9.53 and 12.53 per minute against an overall career average of 5.99.

That really puts it in perspective; Bobby Green has been performing better and gaining more attention because he simply started throwing more punches. He has always had slick boxing, but in his last five fights he has really started using that boxing to its full extent. The change came after dropping a controversial decision against Thiago Moises where he looked like the better fighter but showboated often and did not do enough, which had been emblematic of much of his UFC career until recently. He now presses the action constantly, does not let his flair for the dramatic effect his performances, and does not give his opponents room to breathe. The high volume also helps with the judges, as he has previously fallen prey to several questionable decisions.

This is the challenge Drew Dober faced. How would he deal with a slick striker who can avoid most of what is thrown at his head, will not wilt like Alves or McKinney, and has faster hands than him? It started off poorly, as we’ve seen has been a theme for Drew of late. In the first round he pressured, as usual, but consistently ran headfirst onto punches. Bobby is not known as a big hitter, but because Drew came forward and threw himself into the punches Green’s precision kept hurting Dober and took his legs out from under him at one point, even with Dober’s notorious chin. Green’s MMA-adapted Philly Shell defense kept Drew from landing clean at all in the first round as he slipped, rolled with, or blocked with his shoulder every punch.

Blood masked Drew’s face yet again when he went back to his corner. There, his team formulated a change in strategy that would allow him to track down Bobby Green and land the power shots he so desired. They planned to pressure Green back to the fence again, but this time instead of trying to out-rhythm him to land the big left hand, Dober would use the double jab to both push him back to the fence and to set up power shots. He had to stay patient and not just exchange blow for blow. Keeping Bobby against the fence gave Drew more of a chance to track him down as mobility would be limited.

When Drew got Bobby’s back to the fence in the first round he always escaped, either by hurting Dober with strikes or clinching up to stifle the pressure. This time, Dober remained on the outside just enough that neither was easy. He set up the kill shot with his lead right hand, jabbing and hooking off the jab to push Green to the fence one last time before firing a combination. Bobby Green could slip the opening blows of most any salvo thrown his way, but by extending the combination to a third, fourth, and fifth punch Drew Dober managed to land a blow which echoed with finality as the year drew to a close.

Dober is a testament to what resilience and determination can accomplish, especially when one has those daunting physical tools to work with. All three of his fights in 2022 he fell behind early on and got hit with some big shots. But in all three he persevered and notched another knockout win. Even when taking a wider point of view he was once 1-4 in the UFC, though one loss was overturned to a no contest, and turned that around to go 11-4 in the rest of his UFC run. Now he is ranked in arguably the toughest division in the sport and has become a fan favorite for his gripping style of fighting. His knockout of Bobby Green tied him with future Hall of Famer Dustin Poirier for the most knockouts in UFC lightweight history, with a highly impressive eight.

Now the number next to Dober’s name allows him to turn his attention to his fellow top 15 lightweights, many of whom are fresh faces to him. Whoever is next, fans can be assured that the fight will keep them on the edge of their seat. One never knows just what will go down in a Drew Dober fight.

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