Prior to each UFC fight card, Jay Primetown takes a look at some of the key contests at each event. In the latest installment, we look ahead to the main event of The Ultimate Fighter 28 as top ten welterweights square off as Rafael dos Anjos takes on Kamaru Usman in a key fight in the division.
Rafael dos Anjos (Record: 28-10, +215 Underdog, Fighter Grade: A-)
The former UFC lightweight champion and welterweight title challenger had been on a tear at welterweight prior to losing to Colby Covington at UFC 225. Dos Anjos looks get back on track in the main event of TUF 28, but it won’t be easy against surging Kamaru Usman.
A third degree black in belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Rafael dos Anjos has not only evolved, but improved significantly under the tutelage of Rafael Cordeiro. His training at Kings MMA alongside the likes of Beneil Dariush and Fabricio Werdum has been a big reason for the improvement in results. Rafael Cordeiro has been a catalyst finding holes for his guys to improve on. Dos Anjos footwork and cage control has been a huge upgrade. He no longer chases his opponent around the Octagon, but moves laterally to cut his opponents off and have them fighting off their back foot. It’s this high-pressure style which has caused his opponent’s problems. Dos Anjos combines that with heavy left kicks and an excellent left hand. In his fight with Anthony Pettis, he combined this high energy style on the feet with powerful wrestling securing eight takedowns in the fight. Conditioning is the key to being able to employ this style of fighting. Only in his last fight against Covington was dos Anjos not the far superior conditioned fighter.
Kamaru Usman (Record: 13-1, -265 Favorite, Fighter Grade: A)
TUF 21 Winner Kamaru Usman entered the UFC with as much hype as any TUF winner in recent memory. He hasn’t disappointed since entering the UFC winning his first eight fights in the promotion and surging into title contention. He passed his first trust test in the organization in his last fight when he beat perennial contender Demian Maia by decision.
The Nigerian born fighter immigrated to the US at eight years of age. He quickly gravitated towards wrestling. He was a high school standout and later as a NCAA Division wrestler. He won a national title in his senior year utilizing that platform to kickstart his MMA career. Usman is a strong, physical welterweight with impeccable takedown defense. Usman has yet to be taken to the mat during his UFC stint. Offensively, he averages a fantastic 3.85 takedowns per 15 minutes and does so at a 47% success clip. Usman does well to chain his wrestling attempts together. He’s pretty relentless in his takedown attempts when he wants to get his fights to the ground. At times, Usman has decided to strike with his opponents to look for a finish. He’s made strides in his striking game landing 3.64 strikes per minute. Defensively is where he ultimately shines. He takes very little damage absorbing just 1.45 strikes per minute. A strike differential of 2.18 per minute ranks him second all time in the UFC’s welterweight division behind only Georges St. Pierre to put a little perspective of just how strong Usman has been in the UFC.
In a pivotal matchup in the UFC’s Welterweight Division, Kamaru Usman faces his toughest test to date against Rafael dos Anjos. The blueprint is out there for Usman to have success against dos Anjos. In his last outing, the Brazilian was tasked with fighting Colby Covington. Like Covington, Usman is a high energy wrestler capable of a relentless approach on the feet and never ending takedown attempts. Beyond the wrestling abilities, Usman is a bigger, more physically imposing fighter that can strike as well. It’s a difficult matchup for dos Anjos with only a modest takedown defense success rate of 64%. While it will be a test to see how well Usman’s conditioning can hold up over five rounds, stylistically this matchup very much favors the Nigerian Nightmare and I expect him to be able to dominate this fight and earn a decision victory. Even at -265, the advantages for Usman are too strong not to play. An ideal parlay piece with Usman is Alexey Kunchenko (-347) on the UFC Fight Night 142 card later the same weekend. The price on a Kunchenko / Usman parlay is -129.