UFC 272 main card preview: Is Rafael dos Anjos still an elite lightweight?

Make no mistake, UFC 272 took a big hit when Rafael Fiziev was sidelined due to Covid-19. The Kyrgyztan native has proven himself to…

By: Dayne Fox | 1 year ago
UFC 272 main card preview: Is Rafael dos Anjos still an elite lightweight?
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Make no mistake, UFC 272 took a big hit when Rafael Fiziev was sidelined due to Covid-19. The Kyrgyztan native has proven himself to be one of the most exciting up-and-comers to hit the scene in recent memory. However, the UFC deserves some credit for keeping Rafael dos Anjos on the card as word got around only at the beginning of this week that Fiziev was out.

It’s not like they had to resort to signing someone out of left field either. Renato Moicano has headlined a Fight Night card and has wins over the likes of Calvin Kattar and Cub Swanson. I know many were clamoring for Islam Makhachev to step in, but I’m sure he had his reasons for not accepting what the UFC was offering. Perhaps we’ll find out what exactly happened there, but Moicano is a nice consolation prize.

The rest of the card, while not having the type of stakes atypical of PPV main card fights, does offer an entertaining brand of intrigue. Thus, while I admit UFC 272 isn’t top of the line, it does appear to be worthwhile.

For the early prelims preview, click here. For the rest of the prelims, click here. For an audio preview, click here.

Rafael dos Anjos vs. Renato Moicano, 160-pound Catchweight

At this stage, dos Anjos is one of the elder statesmen on the roster. Despite that, he’s aged better than many others have at this stage of their careers. However, it’s possible dos Anjos has been able to maintain his reputation due to circumstance that puts him in a more favorable light. Yes, he is coming off a win over Paul Felder. However, Felder, noble as his performance was, also took the fight on days notice and retired without taking another fight after that. Prior to that, dos Anjos was soundly defeated in four of his previous five fights. True, he was fighting at welterweight and every one of those losses came to someone either holding a belt or currently in the top ten of the division. He was facing tough competition. But is that just a cover for his decline?

We may not get a satisfactory answer with his fight with Moicano. Not that Moicano isn’t skilled enough to beat dos Anjos, but the deck is stacked against him to get a win here. While Moicano fought at featherweight for a long time, it’s been several years and he was reported to be at 180 when the fight was agreed to. Plus, he’s flying in from Brazil. That’s not an easy list of obstacles to overcome.

It doesn’t help Moicano that dos Anjos has never come into a fight lacking for preparation. Yes, he’s not getting a lot of time to prepare for Moicano, but you can be sure he crammed as much information as he could for this fight. Dos Anjos also has a reputation as one of the most fundamentally sound grapplers in the sport. He was controlled for long stretches in each of his mentioned losses, but the question remains if it was because he was undersized or if he’s lost a step.

Even if dos Anjos hasn’t lost a step, it isn’t too hard to see Moicano being the first to officially submit dos Anjos. Moicano may have the best game in the sport once he has his opponent’s back. Not only are more than half of Moicano’s victories via submission, they are all from RNC’s. Dos Anjos isn’t as quick as he once was and if Moicano can kick off a scrambling session, he could very well end up finding dos Anjos’ back.

All that said, the main thing to remember is all fights start standing. Moicano has a nice jab and showed some power in his disposal of Alexander Hernandez a few weeks ago. However, Moicano’s chin is still very much a question mark. Dos Anjos is a fundamentally sound boxer with occasional pop. He doesn’t seem to throw his signature body kicks with the same abundance he used to, but dos Anjos has also been weary of being taken down lately. Moicano wants to get him down, but that seems unlikely. No one has been able to consistently take dos Anjos down at lightweight and dos Anjos has faced far superior wrestlers than Moicano. I won’t discount Moicano somehow finding dos Anjos’ back, but I don’t trust Moicano’s chin to hold up in a five-round, short notice contest. Dos Anjos via TKO of RD2

Edson Barboza vs. Bryce Mitchell, Featherweight

Barboza has been in the shoes of Mitchell before. About a decade ago, Barboza was an unbeaten prospect with a notable highlight reel and a LOT of hype. Then, Barboza ran into a wily veteran whose best years were behind him in Jamie Varner… and Varner took him to school. Are we going to see history repeat itself?

Stylistically, this is a much different contest. Barboza is one of the most notable strikers in the history of the UFC. Not just the lightweight division, but the entire UFC. He owns not one, but two stoppages due to low kicks. His wheel kick KO of Terry Etim is one of the most commonly played highlights in the history of the UFC. I’m amazed his flying knee KO of Beneil Dariush isn’t played more. He has his fair share of KO’s with his fists too. I repeat, Barboza is one of the most notable strikers in the history of the UFC.

While Barboza is one of the most notable strikers in UFC history, he isn’t an all-time great. While Barboza is both tough and has above average takedown defense, his durability hasn’t always matched up with his toughness and he has faced a long line of high-level wrestlers. Mitchell isn’t a high-level wrestler in the traditional sense, but the 27-year-old is one of the elite scramblers in the sport. Whereas most try to complete their takedowns in an advantageous position, Mitchell doesn’t mind ending up on his back or in a 50-50 position. So long as the fight is on the mat, the fight is effectively in his world.

Mitchell’s willingness to go to the mat also adds an element of fearlessness to his striking. He’s willing to put himself in situations most wouldn’t as he doesn’t fear being taken down. Thus, while he does use his strikes to set up his takedowns, his ground game also sets up his striking. Hardly a technical savant on the feet, Mitchell does have one thing that has traditionally been troublesome for Barboza: a crowding pressure game. If Mitchell can keep Barboza from launching his kicks, he’s taken away the most dangerous part of Barboza’s arsenal. However, Barboza has become a far more technical boxer than he was in the early stages of his career. While Mitchell’s toughness has been impressive thus far, he hasn’t faced someone nearly on the level of Barboza’s power. How will Thug Nasty react?

It isn’t hard to see why so many are picking Mitchell. Though he’s had a layoff of about 16 months, he’s still young enough in his career to believe that he could be a much improved fighter since we last saw him. He’s got a sizeable advantage on the mat and won’t be afraid to get into the face of Barboza. But who was the last fighter who beat Barboza with a slick ground game? It’s always been someone either bullying him around the cage with their physicality or catching him with something heavy on the chin. Mitchell doesn’t seem like the type to do either to him. That hardly means a Mitchell win is impossible. It’s hard to think of someone with a more natural feel for the ground than Mitchell, but I think Barboza’s maturity will help him find something to put away the younger fighter with. Barboza via KO of RD1

  • Off the top of my head, it’s difficult to name a more fun-loving personality on the UFC roster than Kevin Holland. Trash talking in the cage is a regular occurrence. But offering your opponent good tactical advice in the midst the fight? Only Holland would do that as he did with Joaquin Buckley a couple of years ago. While Holland’s ability to shake off losses makes it hard to believe he’s going to be inside his own head after being unable to pick up a win in his last three fights, his laissez-faire attitude does lead to concerns about how seriously he takes his job. Tall at 185 at 6’3”, Holland is dropping down to welterweight to alleviate being outmuscled as he had been in his last three fights. While it should help, Alex Oliveira isn’t an easy fighter to shake off in wrestling or clinch engagements. In fact, not only does it appear Oliveira is the better wrestler, he appears to be the more powerful striker. Well… he used to be. Oliveira appears to have suffered negative consequences to his durability after several years of somehow cutting down to 155 along with 10 years of wear and tear. Did I mention he spent several years as a rodeo cowboy? I can’t imagine that was easy on his body, nor have the numerous blood and guts battles he has endured. If this was the version of Oliveira from three or four years ago, I’d have a hard time figuring out who to pick. However, Holland’s reach will make it difficult for Oliveira to execute his range offense. Unless the weight cut depletes Holland, this contest is his for the taking. Holland via TKO of RD2
  • Greg Hardy looks like he’s on his last legs, at least in terms of his job security. The UFC has invested plenty of time and energy in the former NFL All-Pro and it doesn’t look like they believe their getting proper return on their investment. Given Hardy’s sketchy past, it was hard to believe they were ever going to, but I suppose they did get some extra eyes. Did is the operative word, as no one seems to care anymore. That doesn’t mean Hardy is a complete flop. He is one of the most athletic heavyweights on the roster, with exceptional power and burst. That alone makes him a threat against whoever he steps in the cage with. However, the lack of progress on the mat is disturbing. To give Hardy credit, he’s only been working on his ground game for five years, but he still comes across as someone in their first year. That has most people thinking Sergey Spivak is going to eat Hardy for breakfast. A lanky heavyweight reliant on trips in the clinch, Spivak has proven to be one of the better ground technicians in the division. Not only does he have a solid arsenal of submissions, he places a large emphasis on positioning to, a rare feature in a division reliant on brutality and power. However, Spivak isn’t much of an athlete and has been blasted quickly by explosive opponents with power… just like Hardy. This is more of a pick ‘em than the odds would indicate, but I’m seeing more progress in the fight IQ of Spivak than I am out of Hardy, so I’ll go with the smarter fighter. Spivak via submission of RD2


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About the author
Dayne Fox
Dayne Fox

Dayne Fox is a contributing writer and analyst for Bloody Elbow. He has been writing about combat sports since 2013 and a member of Bloody Elbow since 2016. Dayne primarily contributes opinion pieces and event coverage. Dayne’s specialties are putting together the preview articles for all the UFC events and post-fight analysis. Outside of writing on combat sports, Dayne works in the purchasing department of a construction company, formerly working as an analyst. He is also a proud husband and father. In what spare time he can find, he enjoys strategy games and is a movie enthusiast. He is based in Utah.

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