Rafael dos Anjos avoided the first three-fight losing streak of his career with a gritty fourth round submission over Kevin Lee in May. In the process, he held on to his place as the UFC’s No. 4-ranked contender in the UFC welterweight division. In order to remain in the conversation as a future challenger to champion Kamaru Usman, Dos Anjos will need to defeat another young prospect this weekend as he faces Leon Edwards on Saturday (ESPN, 6 p.m. ET).
Edwards, aka “Rocky”, has been fighting in the UFC since 2014 and is currently riding a seven-fight winning streak, which has lifted him to No. 12 in the UFC’s welterweight rankings. During his run he’s developed a conservative style that has carried him to multiple decision victories, and Edwards will face a serious test of how that style contrasts with Dos Anjos’ all around game.
WIth that in mind, the following statistical categories could very well highlight how those differences could end up being the deciding factor in how the fight plays out.
Dos Anjos (25-11, 5 KOs, 10 submissions) has expanded and diversified his overall MMA game since he first joined the UFC in 2008 — but he is still a striker at heart. During his UFC career, he has landed 3.6 significant strikes per minute, which is above average for ranked welterweights (3.23). Despite solid offense, though, Dos Anjos has shown some defensive liabilities at times as he absorbs 3.25 strikes per minute. Due to these defensive shortcomings, Dos Anjos’ striking differential, which is measured by significant strikes landed per minute minus significant strikes absorbed per minute, currently stands at plus-0.35.
Edwards’ striking differential in the UFC has been slightly better, at plus-0.49. Even though both fighters have similar differentials, they arrive at them via drastically different striking styles. While Dos Anjos excels in terms of offense, Edwards has been able to separate himself from others in the division with his defense, with the second best strike absorption rate among ranked UFC welterweights. Edwards absorbs only 1.86 significant strikes per minute, which is behind only champion Kamaru Usman (1.6). However, when it comes to effective offensive output, he comes up short. Edwards lands only 2.35 significant strikes per minute, which only puts him ahead of submission specialist Demian Maia (1.71) and Ben Askren, who has failed to land a single significant strike in two UFC fights.
Over the course of his UFC career, Edwards (17-3, 6 KOs, 3 submissions) has been at his best when he is able to slow down the pace of the fight and outland his opponents. That will likely be his strategy against Dos Anjos. However, if Dos Anjos, the former champion, is able to control distance and get to his striking, he should have a major advantage.
Edwards’ lack of striking offense isn’t due to a technical deficiency. He lands 49% of his significant strike attempts, in fact, which ties him with former UFC champion Tyron Woodley for third-best striking accuracy among the UFC’s top 15 ranked welterweights. He simply does not throw them with very much volume. During his UFC career, he has attempted only 4.76 significant strikes per minute, and his attempts rate have been under five per minute in six of his 11 fights.
Dos Anjos lands 45% of his significant attempts, but thanks to his higher striking output he scores with his strikes much more consistently. He has attempted 7.86 significant strikes per minute during his UFC career. Dos Anjos’ ability to fight with a high striking output is actually an essential element of his style. Since joining the promotion in 2008, he has attempted 8.58 significant strikes in his victories, but only 6.8 in his losses.
Even though Dos Anjos clearly has the edge in terms of volume, Edwards could potentially take him out of his game by limiting that volume. For many of Dos Anjos’ opponents, that has proved to be a difficult task. However, Edwards has been successful at limiting opponents up until this point in his UFC career.
The wrestling aspect of this fight is perhaps one of the most interesting variables heading into Saturday night. Both fighters have solid takedown numbers and have relied on their grappling to win difficult fights. At the same time, the numbers also point to defensive liabilities for both of them.
Dos Anjos has landed 2.02 takedowns per 15 minutes in his UFC career, and once on the ground he has landed 195 significant ground strikes and notched 0.7 submission attempts per 15 minutes. Despite that success, he has surrendered 1.86 takedowns per 15 minutes and has had real trouble with wrestling-based fighters.
Edwards lands only 31% of his takedown attempts, but he still averages 1.33 takedowns per 15 minutes of fight time. He has landed at least one takedown in six of his past seven fights. Despite offensive wrestling success, he still has allowed his opponent to land 1.9 takedowns per 15 minutes. The fighter who is able to win the takedown battle will have a decided advantage in this contest. Dos Anjos seems to have the slight edge, both in terms of landing takedowns and avoiding being taken down. On top of that, he has faced the tougher wrestlers in the division of late in Usman, Colby Covington and Kevin Lee. Excluding those fights, his career takedowns allowed per 15 minutes rate falls from 1.86 down to 1.01.
Percent of scheduled time
Since Edwards is at his best when he is able to slow down the pace of a fight, he spends a lot of time in the cage. During his UFC career, his fights have lasted 90% of his scheduled time, meaning that while his 11 fights could have lasted a maximum of 175 minutes, Edwards has fought for 158 minutes and 8 seconds. Eight of his 11 fights in the UFC have gone to decision and two of his three finishes came in the final round of the fight — including one fight that ended one second before the final horn. The lone outlier came in Edwards’ first career UFC victory, a knockout against Seth Baczynski just eight seconds into their fight in April 2015.
Edwards has been scheduled to fight for 25 minutes once in his UFC career, and in that bout he took home a five-round decision victory over Donald Cerrone.
Dos Anjos not only has a lot more experience in 25-minute fights, but he is also a better finisher than Edwards, with four KO wins and four submission victories in the UFC. Still, that’s over the course of 27 career UFC fights and Dos Anjos has seen his fair share of decisions as well, fighting 73% of his scheduled cage time in the UFC. Nine of his past 13 fights have been scheduled for 25 minutes, and dos Anjos has gone the full distance in five of those bouts.
On one hand, it is possible that Edwards’ ability to manage a fight on the way to a decision victory means he will have an advantage in a longer fight. Then again, there is a big difference between a 15-minute fight and a championship-length fight. Edwards’ lack of experience in longer fights as well as his seeming lack of finishing ability will likely result in the fight swinging towards Dos Anjos if the bout reaches the championship rounds.