UFC Fight Night 152 concluded with Rafael dos Anjos getting his hand raised against Kevin Lee, snapping his two-fight losing streak for the third time in his long UFC career.
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The former lightweight champion was given a tough task in a young and hungry Lee, who many had thought was a bad matchup for dos Anjos, and classified as “another wrestler” that he had to go up against. And it wasn’t much of a wrongful thought. We saw dos Anjos struggle against fighters that pursue wrestling against him in the past, the likes of Khabib Nurmagomedov, Colby Covington, and Kamaru Usman most recently. It was not the case this time, however, as dos Anjos showed far better efficiency in grappling to eventually choke out Lee in the fourth round.
With his 18th win under Zuffa and maintaining his position near the top of the welterweight division, dos Anjos was definitely one of the biggest winners of the night. But there were other winners that came out of the main event on Saturday night besides dos Anjos, and here they are:
This one may be a little obvious; but not too much.
The current welterweight champion had his fair share of minutes inside the octagon with dos Anjos, when they headlined The Ultimate Fighter Season 28 Finale back in November of last year. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Usman was able to dominate the fight, even though all three of the judges scoring the fight saw it differently, the scores being 50-43, 49-45, and 48-47. It is quite rare to see a 50-43, but it is also quite rare to see it followed by 48-47.
Nevertheless, dos Anjos’ win over the weekend was a statement victory for a couple of reasons. One, it was somewhat of a proof that despite the successes that fighters have been seeing recently by moving up in weight (Nunes, Santos, Pettis), it is by no means an easy task to jump into the top of a division immediately and have great performances even with the removal of a tough weight cut. Two, and the more transparent one, dos Anjos is still an elite at 170lbs regardless of what happened in his past couple of fights.
Dos Anjos’ win also benefited Usman, particularly because Lee mentioned before the fight that he was starting to ‘eye’ Usman as well. With dos Anjos coming out the victor of the fight, it not only boosted Usman’s skills but his accomplishment in defeating dos Anjos, too.
You would have to go years back in memory to recall dos Anjos’s fight with Khabib. Clearly, it was before either fighter were contenders to compete for the title at lightweight, and because of that, many would not put too much on that victory for Khabib, but this should not be the case. A lot of the fans would argue that dos Anjos hit a turning point in his career after his loss to Khabib, when he was able to string together 3 wins before receiving a title shot against then-champion Pettis, which dos Anjos went onto dominate and claim his first ever world title. However, considering that Khabib was also not much of a contender in the division yet at that point, it is tough to see things from that point of view.
Additionally, even without countering such point, we saw Lee struggle to keep up the same pace that he came out of the gate with in the first round when the fight reached deeper points. This has never been the case with Khabib. To pressure someone with constant grappling is not only exhausting for the opponent, but it is also extremely draining for the one engaging in the grappling, which we witnessed with Lee against dos Anjos.
Lee’s performance can be seen as a praise to Khabib, for being able to maintain the pace and the pressure for 25 minutes, which is clearly very demanding.
Tony Ferguson & Al Iaquinta
When fighting someone like Lee, toughness has to be an asset you are willing to use. Endurance is a whole different issue, but when it comes to bringing the fight early on, very few do it as hard as Lee. This was the case in Lee’s most recent defeats against Ferguson and Iaquinta, where he was able to dominate the early part of the fight, then slows down evidently.
Ferguson and Iaquinta were both able to weather the storm and ultimately ended up getting the victory. It is not manageable for everyone, however, as the early storm that Lee brings can do enough damage early on to keep you weakened for the rest of the fight, no matter how much Lee slows down.
Ferguson, who fought Lee back at UFC 216 in 2017, was in an extremely dangerous position towards the end of the first round, as he was mounted and getting pummeled by Lee on top. Ferguson eventually went on to submit Lee in the third round via triangle choke.
Iaquinta, who ran into Lee twice on his way to the top of the division, fought against Lee in December of last year latest, where he was much like Ferguson, in a bad position early on giving up his back. But Iaquinta, who has displayed his toughness countless times in the past, was able to survive without taking much damage, and got the nod from the judges for the second time in his career against Lee.
Both of these fighters have proven to be two of the best fighters in the world, and if you look back on their performances against ‘The Motown Phenom’, you can clearly see why.
Jaewon Paik is an MMA writer mainly contributing with editorials and feature articles. He is also a contributor at FanSided and CombatPress, and has formerly contributed over at MMALatestNews. He currently studies over at Ohio University.