Rafael dos Anjos vs. Leon Edwards headlines UFC on ESPN 4 this July 20, 2019 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas.
One sentence summary
David: Slam and Eggers
Phil: Forget drama and settle in for one of the best all-around technical showcases to be made in the modern UFC.
Record: Rafael dos Anjos 29-11 | Leon Edwards 23-3
Odds: Rafael dos Anjos +105 | Leon Edwards -125
History / Introduction to the fighters
David: It was only a two months ago when we last saw RDA in action. Needless to say, nothing has changed. He’s still a smooth operator of pressure and violence. As fun as that sounds, that’s about it. He’s not primed for title contention, and he’s not being put out to pasture.
Phil: We’ve previewed RDA a fair few times, and yet he’s a fighter that I’m always happy to see in a main or co-main event (unlike, say, some of his HW brethren). The man is a living guarantee of quality: you know he is going to turn up in shape, fight his ass off, and show tons of skill everywhere. Quietly, I think he’s one of the best and most accomplished fighters in the sport.
David: Like any fighter who starts his UFC career off 2-2, Edwards didn’t register to me as a fighter with elite potential. Despite his fun, engaging, and dynamic style, he has only two TKO/KO victories throughout his 11-fight UFC career. In a way, we’re still waiting for Edwards. Yes, it was an impressive domination of Cowboy Cerrone. Yes, so was his domination of Gunnar Nelson. But he’s teased with enough moments of brutality that we’re finally ready to see something sustained, or exclaimed.
Phil: Leon Edwards is the British RDA for a new generation. He doesn’t really fight much like the Brazilian, but the approximate promotional notes are the same: pure professionalism and all-round fighting quality. He does, it have to be said, seem like he’s a bit more of a jerk than the ever-respectful RDA, which does in part seem to be why people were so amused by Masvidal’s three piece and a soda.
What’s at stake?
David: This really feels like one of those promoter popcorn fights. It doesn’t really have much exposure or juice in clarifying the title picture, but it doesn’t hurt the title picture AND it’s just a damn awesome fight.
Phil: The welterweight title picture is pretty crowded at the moment. Masvidal almost certainly has next. Edwards could conceivably jump in line after that with a win with the strong caveats that (a) it would have to be impressive (b) Covington has to lose to Lawler.
Where do they want it?
David: dos Anjos has stuck with his blue collar ethic since he entered the UFC. It’s kind of amazing. He looked like a fighter who was too good to be 0-2; nearly edging out a decision victory over Jeremy Stephens and nearly cranking Tyson Griffin’s calf clean in half. Lo and behold, he grew up into that fighter. He’s been headlining these mini-cards ad nauseum, so let me just say that RDA is still somewhat of a rare breed when you think about it. There aren’t many fighters who are high octane pugilists on the feet and equally adept pressure submission specialists. It gives his forward movement an added dimension of “if we end up on the ground, this ain’t stopping homey.” Moreover, he’s able to stick with a breakneck pace. Despite his array of skills, he’s not really dynamic. Rather than transition his offense, he kind of just phases in and out. Opponents can disrupt him, catch him off-guard, and it’s the latter where Edwards stands a chance.
Phil: RDA’s game has a tremendous sense of rough-hewn craftsmanship to it. Slip, right hook, left straight and pound the body or the legs with a kick. Collar ties into elbows and knees, or underhooks and clinch wrestling. It’s all very pleasing to look at and impressively functional, like furniture carved from driftwood by an excellent carpenter. He’s kept a fairly intense pace of taking fights since his debut back in 2004, and in general strikes me as someone who just really likes to train and compete and improve. His defense leaves a little to be desired in a vacuum, and he’s never really figured out a way of avoiding the clinch, but other than that Alvarez fight, it’s really only been elite power and pressure threats which have been able to break down RDA’s own pressure style.
David: Edwards, like RDA, is also something of a rare breed: the counterpunch clincher. A lot of fighters will weave, wind, and hulksmash their way into efficiencies. Edwards, on the other hand, thinks, prods, and executes. He’s a student of micro-pugilism. Which no, does not describe a mogwai who fights for money. I just mean there are direct ways to impact a fight: straight right, leg kick, armbar, etc. And then there are indirect ways to impact a fight: positioning, timing, pace, etc. Edwards is all about maximizing the indirect to punctuate the direct. He computes everything that happens in the cage, and stores it for future use. A fighter like Cerrone is someone who you need to beat with a sledgehammer. Edwards beat him with a scalpel. He’s just so good at timing strikes, staying patient, and being the smartest guy in the cage. Will that be enough though?
Phil: Like Dos Anjos, Edwards has a style which is just a quiet pleasure to watch. Where RDA built an intensely well-rounded game founded on pressure, Edwards made his from the basis of a clever southpaw counterpunching approach, which he gradually shored up with effective wrestling and a nasty clinch. It isn’t even something built off a power frame: Edwards is a fairly small welterweight by modern standards, but has had deep enough wrestling and scrambling to hang with (and overcome) sprint grappling phenoms like Gunni and Luque. His ability to frame and crossface into knees and elbows is shockingly similar to RDA’s. In general he likes a slower pace, and more of a boxing approach, but can debatably afford it more than RDA due to a speed, defense, range and power advantage. That being said, Edwards confidence in his own defense does mean that he tends to be more shocked and hurt than RDA when something does get through.
Insight from past fights
David: One of the things that has been missing in Edwards’ fights has been a lack of pace or pressure. A lot of his fights have been against specialists (Usman), generalists (Barberena), and where he’s come into contact with dynamic fighters like Nelson and Cerrone; these weren’t fighters who consistently put pace on you. Even Cerrone, who is one of the more active fighters the UFC has ever had, has never been particularly good at closing the gap from one punch entry to the next.
Phil: Looking back on those RDA-Lee and RDA-Covington fights, the thing which stood out to me was the absurd pace they were fought at. Given an approximate strength parity, Covington-RDA might be the most physically grueling fight I’ve ever seen. Edwards’ pace has been... good. Not amazing. But it is notable that some of Donald Cerrones most significant success came late in their five-rounder.
David: I don’t know. Is dos Anjos Team Masvidal or Team Edwards?
Phil: RDA being 40-odd fights into a 15 year career is about it. He’s looked fairly timeless thus far, but that can’t last forever.
David: I honestly don’t know. I think the difference is one is able to disrupt whose game more. If Edwards can disrupt RDA’s pace, can he do it enough to strike patiently through all five rounds? If RDA can effectively pressure Edwards, will he do it enough to ignore Edwards’ clinch tactics? Edwards is on such a run, I gotta believe he finds a way to contain RDA’s rhythm just enough to provoke RDA into intermittent exchanges, which favors Leon. Leon Edwards by Decision.
Phil: This fight should be awesome, one of those where I’ll be genuinely disappointed if it ends early, no matter who ends it. Every area of contention will be fascinating, but I’ll take RDA’s pace and aggression over Edwards’ counters, speed and youth. Rafael dos Anjos by unanimous decision