Former UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos returns to action this Saturday against the always-exciting Bryan Barberena. Dos Anjos most recently came up short in his last run at the lightweight title, beating Paul Felder and Renato Moicano in back-to-back fights with last-minute opponent changes, but lost to Rafael Fiziev in July. He first won the title back in 2015 against Anthony Pettis and has been fairly open about wanting exciting fights over rankings in this final portion of his career.
Few can claim to be as exciting as Bryan Barberena, the man who halted Sage Northcutt’s prodigy-like hype in 2016 and owns five fight of the night honors. He also holds wins over Robbie Lawler, Matt Brown, and Jake Ellenberger and will look to add RDA to his list of legends defeated.
Dos Anjos will be the favorite in his return to welterweight. He was the favorite in his last three welterweight fights, which spanned 2019 and 2020.
- dos Anjos: -588
- Barberena: +394
Rafael dos Anjos (RDA), was first known in the UFC for his Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt but is most dangerous because of his well-rounded skill set. As a striker, he is a southpaw with a tricky straight left that he will lead or end combinations with as he slides forward. He will shift weight completely forward as he lands which gives him space to retreat back to avoid the counter, or continue forward into the clinch. If he isn’t breaking the gap, he is working his kick game on the outside, mostly to the legs and body, but his left body kick is something special and a high-success move for him. However, it is notable that all of these weapons, his sliding left hand, left body kick and leg kicks, work far better if he is controlling the center cage, and if put on the back foot, his success landing while traveling backward is far less.
However, at some point, expect RDA to put Barberena on his back. He has a classic style of jiu-jitsu, opting for top control before all else and aiming straight with his attacks. He looks for level changes blended into his striking combinations, he wants to pass and submit with the arm triangle or take the back and he is very direct in his approach. Expect him to look for these takedowns if he can get Barberena’s back to the cage, as dos Anjos often wins the battle of height, keeping his head above his opponents against the cage and essentially negating their guard and ability to submit and sweep.
Bryan Barberena is going to be at a skill and experience disadvantage in most areas. What he has going for him is durability, size, and viscous clinch striking. He comes over the top of clinches with wild elbows, one area that dos Anjos isn’t particularly known for, however when exchanging at range Barberena has to make the fight as ugly as possible. Barberena has been known to eat a shot in order to come forward to land his own and maintain a pressure that others cannot, plus the diversity in his upper body striking is great, mixing up elbows, uppercuts, hooks and straights very well which make it difficult to shell up and block. However, these weapons all come at a similar range, closer than RDA’s kicks and so maintaining that close contact is important for Barberena. While at range, Barberena does have nice low kicks which could serve to stop forward pressure from dos Anjos but getting into a kicking match would be a mistake.
He has to stop the takedowns at all costs, while he does not have a track record of being submitted, being stuck under dos Anjos for prolonged periods do nothing for him on the scorecards and lessen the time he needs to cause damage. He needs to use the fence to wall walk and get back to his feet, trust in his size and strength if he finds himself needing to tripod up and risk exposing his back because risks taken to get back to his feet offer him a better chance than staying stuck on the ground.
At the end of the day, although it’s Barberena coming in with the momentum, there is a very obvious reason RDA is the -588 favorite. He excels in more areas of the fight and has greater MMA experience. Barberena’s toughness, durability, and violence have brought him back from seemingly defeat or close fights. Still, the smart bets are on RDA because of his wider striking arsenal and power grappling.
Prediction: Rafael dos Anjos to win
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.