Rafael Dos Anjos (28-9) has taken one more step to becoming a two-weight champion, beating hometown favorite Robbie Lawler (28-12 and 1 NC) from pillar to post.
His domination was clinical as it was surprising; no one predicted that Dos Anjos would handle the ex-welterweight champion so easily. The vast majority of casual fans believed Lawler would roll over Dos Anjos, I believed the fight was even, and Vegas had the odds slightly in the Brazilian’s favor.
But pitching a shutout against Lawler? How did Dos Anjos do it?
Deny your opponent his trump card
Lawler usually carries two distinct advantages into every fight: easy-flowing power in his hands and the sublime boxing with which to channel it. Dos Anjos has more variety to his game but Lawler lands fight changing punches with stunning frequency.
Except Dos Anjos was rarely at the range in which he could land a good punch.
Dos Anjos alternated between being too far away or too close for Lawler to land cleanly. At distance, he’d snipe Lawler’s ribs and legs with stinging kicks and lean away from the return fire. In close, he’d clinch and rip Lawler with knees to the body and short elbows to the head while the American could only respond with arm punches.
Predictable boxing is bad boxing
If it came to a literal fistfight, it was hard to see Lawler losing.
He could concuss the toughest of fighters with easy punches that looked like he was pushing open a door instead of caving in grown men’s faces. He polished his lead hook, a difficult skill to master, to a mirror finish. His jab came out like a yawn but still pulverized his opponents into hamburger meat.
Despite all that, Lawler was outboxed for the first time since his loss to Nick Diaz.
His vaunted lead hook was repeatedly slipped and countered by a swinging left hand from Dos Anjos while Lawler’s own left was repeatedly blocked by the Brazilian’s diligent guard. As the fight progressed, Dos Anjos picked up the timing of Lawler’s jab and landed his own with greater efficacy. Predictability is more dangerous than sloppiness because predictability offers the illusion of security while being anything but.
So long as Dos Anjos knew where Lawler’s punches would come from, he could strike with abandon.
The hug of death
During his domination of Neil Magny, Joe Rogan commented how large Dos Anjos looked at welterweight. From an eye test, he placed the Brazilian’s weight between 190 and 200 lbs. To give some perspective, that’s Johny Hendricks (when he could make weight) type size. Yet fans and even the commentary team speculated about Lawler’s “size” advantage, assuming Dos Anjos would be pushed around.
But every time the fight went into the clinch, Dos Anjos won the exchanges.
He had no problem controlling Lawler’s wrists and switching between underhooks and overhooks when necessary. Lawler tried to counter with arm punches to his midsection but they were ineffective in comparison to the knees he was eating in return. Dos Anjos would even let Lawler press him up to the fence and still win the clinch exchanges handily. Every time Lawler wanted to disengage from the clinch, Dos Anjos was so strong that he could control the exit and slip away before Lawler could unload power shots.
Despite a masterclass performance, uneducated fans want to doubt Dos Anjos and deny him a title shot.
People forget that Dos Anjos won all five rounds on the judge’s scorecards. He was outperforming Lawler on all fronts even before the leg injury rendered him borderline immobile. His cardio didn’t falter after a 23-second, non-stop punching barrage like Daniel Cormier speculated. He has fought an ex-Strikeforce champion, perennial top 10 fighter, and ex-UFC champion and not broken a sweat against any of them.
Hopefully, the UFC won’t listen to the gorillas and instead give Dos Anjos the title shot he deserves.