Rafael dos Anjos vs. Colby Covington co-headlines UFC 225 this June 9, 2018 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.
One sentence summary
David: Lewd-bro vs. Renewed-bro
Phil: Professor Chaos continues his streak of battling foreigners who are flatly uninterested in his schtick
Record: Rafael dos Anjos 28-9 | Colby Covington 13-1
Odds: Rafael dos Anjos +110 | Colby Covington -130
History / Introduction to both fighters
David: It feels unfair to think of former title holders as ‘quietly successful’, but that’s RDA. There’s nothing quiet about his game though; even when he was treated as UFC fodder, he still tattooed Jeremy Stephens a lot, and slapped a brutal calf slicer on then-top-prospect Tyson Griffin. His current journey feels a lot like his previous one. After a rocky start, he’s bounced back with brutal efficacy. His stretch against Eddie Alvarez and Tony Ferguson was tough, but since then he’s run over Neil Magny and Robbie Lawler. That is NOT easy. In fact, I think we understate just how impressive that is.
Phil: RDA is straight-up one of the greatest fighters of all time. The “greatest lightweight ever” conversation is muddied, but the man’s level of consistency across his late career while jumping up a weight class is nothing short of astounding. It’s not just the fact that he’s doing well, it’s that he visibly adds pieces to his game as he keeps going. Maybe it’s a topside submission that he hasn’t hit before against Magny, or an evolved clinch game against Saffiediene, but that he gets better and better as he ages is undeniable.
David: I don’t know when I reached a breaking point. Maybe it was the return of the dumbass race and IQ debate. Maybe it was the political correctness is the devil crowd hitting their nadir with a (prowd) Nazi pedophile running for Congress. Maybe it was reading about a woman denied asylum because her forced labor was tantamount to “material support”, resulting in a real life 2018 Dred Scott case. Call me a “bleeding heart”, or “concern tourist” — I just call it basic f--king decency. Covington doesn’t fall into any of the above categories, but he plays with an overlapping lip service. He “tells it like it is!” they say. But sometimes ‘telling it like it is’ simply means ‘revealing what lies beneath.’ And beneath Colby’s talented visage is a mental carousel of porn stars he lies about sleeping with, numetal, and idiotic slurs. Sorry (not sorry) but that doesn’t interest me, and neither does Colby — crap, I still need to preview his fight don’t I?
Phil: At some point Covington’s schtick slipped from being unintentionally amusing to being kind of boring. He’s embraced his role as a villain, which has involved deeds as dastardly as suing Werdum for assault after getting a toy boomerang thrown at his head, spoiling the endings of Marvel and Star Wars movies and filling the inside of chocolates with stinky mayonnaise. One thing I enjoy is the idea of him getting out to see dorky media properties as soon as humanly possible just so he can get material. Queing up for hours, and then sitting in the cinema alongside Wookie cosplayers jotting down “Leia dies in the first twenty minutes” on a sketch pad. I hope he expands to further nerd shit to be honest, and that it takes up more and more of its time. I look forward to him “ruining” the rewards of MMORPG raids, or anime. “THE END OF NEON GENESIS EVANGELION REMAKE DIVERGES SIGNIFICANTLY FROM THE TRANSUBSTANTIATION AND LONELINESS MESSAGE OF THE FIRST. Fucking nerds.”
What’s at stake?
David: Technically, the championship. This feels like the 20th interim title fight, which has me rethinking this section. What’s at stake? Fake gold.
Phil: There have been many wack interim belts in the UFC’s history. This is one of the very wackest.
Where do they want it?
David: RDA has always been a truly dangerous pressure fighter. He’s not always committed to moving forward with fists, feet, elbows, knees, or some classic spinning shit — but he’s committed to moving forward, creating chaos near the cage where his offense blossoms with more options against the fence. His left kick is the baseball bat of his arsenal. By paralyzing his opposition with low kicks, his pressure game is that much more effective as the act of countering his general pressure requires increased movement in multiple directions. His boxing under Jason Parillo has improved as well. Dos Anjos used to be a fairly rote boxer; using his straight left for punch entries, and little variation otherwise. Nowadays he’s better at punctuating combinations with his right hook, and developing more of a rhythm to his specific strikes rather than throw for the general purpose of pressuring, but for the specific purpose of landing.
Phil: The expansion of Dos Anjos’ game has been a marvel to behold. He has developed from an aggressive grappler to a power pressure kickboxer and top position player, and then has generously ladled in offense in all of the gaps. Topside submissions, clinch striking, a more active lead hand, combinations, you name it. His defense has improved and his tireless pace at lightweight is only better at welterweight. His only real issue is one which has plagued him his entire career: he likes to be the one dictating. If he is forced backwards, his game immediately becomes far more effective. It is something he can do (and frankly far more effectively than Covington can) but mid-range fencing or countering off the back foot is just not where Dos Anjos is the most effective. Instead, he likes to sit at the limit of his punching range with his opponent backed into the cage, slamming in body kicks on orthodox fighters and leg kicks on southpaws.
David: Covington’s game is less wrestle-boxer, and more wrestle-mobster. He has this unique kind of whirling dervish attack that is more restrained than it looks. What makes Colby a fighter that warrants respect even when he’s doing everything in his power to be denied it, is that he keeps his attacks hermetically sealed; am I clinching? Focus on grip; am I striking? One-two-one-two; am I wrestling? Lower the hips! Et cetera. But he keeps everything flowing, which makes him hard to defend. He’s technical not because he has good technique, but because his technique is always focused. On their own, his skillset is just average. His wrestling is better defensively than it is offensively (mainly because I think Covington has good clinch ‘processing’, but only okay clinch entries). His boxing is incredibly rote: right jab into overhand left, right jab into overhand left, rinse, and repeat. He can “mix” it up with a right hook, but the mechanics of his punches look like they were chambered in a xerox machine. There’s just no variety. But it keeps it all moving forward, with nary a moment for opponents to breathe.
Phil: Consistency and pressure do a lot of heavy lifting for Covington. One of the things he shares with fellow wrestle-strikers Nurmagomedov and Cormier is that he rarely sacrifices posture when standing. Straight back, head up, shoulders back.This has some advantages, the most of which is that he’s much harder to catch out of position than a traditional hunched stance. It disadvantages him when it comes to phase shifts, though. Normally people aren’t looking at Covington’s strikes and wondering whether they’re a disguised takedown. Instead the strikes are an endless hemming barrage. The combinations you mentioned, but also a quick and sneaky lead right kick. These keep the opponent pinned in place, at which point he normally dives in for the double leg or (more likely) a takedown chain where he’ll doggedly work for a body lock, spin for the back, and generally stick to his opponent like a particularly irritating limpet. He’s not a large or exceptionally powerful welterweight, but makes up for this by being able to keep an absolutely insane pace. He’s not exactly a defensive mastermind, and so the basic story of the fight is: whoever gets pushed back is going to lose. That’s pretty much the way it is.
Insight from past fights
David: Ferguson and Nurmagomedov are not at all similar to Covington — Ferguson favors eccentricity and aggression while Nurmagomedov favors technique and raw strength — but their styles have enough overlap to give RDA trouble; fighters with a strong wrestling base who can pressure and put dos Anjos on his backfoot, where he’s less effective. The kicker is that Covington has some awful habits on the feet. There’s a reason Demian Maia won a slugfest with Colby for an entire round, and that’s because Covington has some awful habits. He lunges awkwardly with his right jab, and bends his overhand left, which takes away the punch’s velocity. This is crucial in a southpaw vs. southpaw matchup. Want to see what happens when one fighter is really good at landing their power hand in their natural stance and the other isn’t? Watch the last round of Erik Morales vs. Manny Pacquiao. If RDA keeps his cool, a brutal counter left could be waiting for Covington, and there’s no way he recovers from getting caught if Maia could tag him.
Phil: Big, powerful pressure grapplers have always given RDA issues. Or even, as in Guida’s case, relatively small ones. I think his most relevant matchup here is his “win” over Evan Dunham- a large, if not particularly quick clinch and pace monster who just met RDA head on and wore him down. I don’t think Dos Anjos would have won that match if it’d gone another two rounds. Hell, I don’t think he won it as it is.
David: I guess it depends. Will Covington actually try to dunk his nuts on dos Anjos face like he says? If he pulls off some kind of Deadpool-esque move, I might appreciate Covington for a split second.
Phil: For all his blather, Covington is a professional when it comes to making weight and fighting. Similarly, RDA is as no-nonsense as you get.
David: I just don’t see Covington getting past dos Anjos’ left hand. Covington’s defense is still pretty bad, and if dos Anjos is able to crack his legs even a little, he won’t come close to laying his way to victory. Rafael dos Anjos by TKO, round 1.
Phil: Maia-Covington taught me a valuable lesson, which is that when someone has consistently struggled with a singular style matchup (like “credentialed wrestler”) then it’s often wishful thinking to bet on them to overcome it late in their career. I’m looking forward to this fight a lot- whatever happens it should be a fast-paced, brutal test of wills. Colby Covington by unanimous decision.