Rafael dos Anjos showed once again why he is one of the top welterweights in the sport with a fourth round submission win in the UFC Fight Night main event from Rochester, N.Y.
After a pair of tough losses to current welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and former interim champion Colby Covington in his past two fights, dos Anjos needed a strong performance on Saturday night and that is exactly what he delivered against Kevin Lee, was moving up to 170 pounds for the first time in his UFC career.
As many expected, the fight really played out in two parts with Lee storming out to a strong start and dos Anjos biding his time to then attack his opponent once his conditioning started to fail him.
Lee came out like a ball of fire in the opening round as he immediately went on the attack with striking combinations and then attempting to pressure dos Anjos with his wrestling.
It was a strong start from the former lightweight but dos Anjos was able to weather the storm and begin battling back with his own counter shots.
As the round wore on, dos Anjos began settling into a better rhythm as he fought off takedown attempts from Lee and then snapping off his combinations on the feet with good power and solid accuracy.
Lee refused to back down as the fight moved forward and he was coming after dos Anjos with a relentless pace that carried into the second round.
While Lee slowed down compared to the first five minutes, he was still moving forward with his takedown attempts as he tried to punish the Brazilian from inside the clinch. Still, Lee’s movement was definitely more deliberate and labored compared to the opening round.
In the one minute break between rounds, Lee’s corner advised him that this was going to be a war of attrition, which meant he was going to have to find a way to maintain his pace or risk running out of gas.
Dos Anjos definitely did his best to take advantage of Lee slowing down as he defended his opponent’s wrestling while constantly trying to reverse positions against the cage or on the ground.
Lee was glued to dos Anjos throughout the third round as he transitioned into several positions looking for the submission but he just couldn’t hold onto the former lightweight champion. Again and again, dos Anjos found a way to escape but he also just couldn’t seem to completely break away from Lee’s grasp.
It was a grueling pace set by both fighters but it was definitely taking a bigger toll on Lee, who just continued to slow down with each passing exchange and that gave dos Anjos the confidence he needed to surge forward to ultimately get the win.
In the middle of another back and forth round, dos Anjos was able to secure a takedown of his own and once he had Lee down on the mat, he had no intention of letting him up again.
Dos Anjos shredded Lee’s defense, moved into the mount and then saw an opening with Lee’s head and neck exposed that allowed him to go for the submission.
He immediately jumped into an arm triangle choke position, moved his body around to the side and cinched up the hold and there was no escape for Lee. He tried to resist for a moment but was then forced to tap out with the end coming at 3:47 into the fourth round.
“I knew he would come strong in the first round and he pushed through the third,” dos Anjos said about Lee after the fight was finished. “I was just using my experience. I needed that victory.”
While the two losses suffered to Usman and Covington will never be erased, dos Anjos knows that he has what it takes to compete with the top fighters in the division and he’s still determined to earn his shot at the championship as he looks to build off this latest win.
“I know that I have what it takes to be a world champion,” dos Anjos said. “I want to be ready for the right opportunity and I’ll be ready to take advantage of it.”
As for Lee, he’s now dropped his past two fights in a row with his welterweight debut against dos Anjos and his previous bout at lightweight against Al Iaquinta. A supremely talented fighter, Lee has shown flashes of brilliance at times but he has come up short against the best competition he’s faced at both welterweight and lightweight.
Now Lee has to decide if he wants to continue to bulk up to compete at welterweight or if his future will take him back to lightweight following this latest setback.