By: Logan Helfferich
In the upcoming UFC lightweight championship fight on Thursday, Eddie Alvarez looks to keep his momentum going and become champion in a second major MMA organization. Alvarez recently signed with the UFC after losing the Bellator lightweight championship to Will Brooks, who also even more recently signed with the UFC. In his last two fights, Alvarez defeated former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis (who lost his belt to current champion Rafael Dos Anjos) and former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez. Both victories were split decisions, but both opponents are also top lightweights in the world. Prior to those two victories though, Alvarez lost a unanimous decision to Donald Cerrone, who just lost to Dos Anjos in his previous title defense only a minute into the first round via TKO due to a brutal body kick and punches. Prior to his first title defense, Dos Anjos defeated Anthony Pettis to win the belt, and prior to that he defeated top fighters, Nate Diaz and Benson Henderson.
Dos Anjos was scheduled to fight Conor McGregor before being replaced by Nate Diaz two weeks before the fight because of a broken toe that Dos Anjos suffered. The rest is history. If Dos Anjos wouldn’t have suffered a broken toe, then he likely would’ve secured the biggest victory of his life against McGregor and would be way more popular right now. Non-fighting fans know who Nate Diaz is now because of his press conference antics with McGregor and more so for his incredible striking and rear-naked choke victory that finally silenced the loud-mouthed McGregor. Dos Anjos holds the lightweight belt, yet more casual fans know Nate Diaz than him solely because Diaz defeated McGregor, arguably the most popular MMA fighter in the world right now whether it be for positive or negative reasons. Dos Anjos knows he missed on a huge opportunity and he’s going to be looking to make a statement against Alvarez and show people who really runs the lightweight division.
Dos Anjos doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves, especially when it comes to his striking. He’s mainly known as a strong grappler, but anyone who can finish Donald Cerrone on their feet is clearly an exceptional striker. The striking advantage goes to Dos Anjos, but only slightly. Alvarez is a very talented boxer with heavy hands and showed it in his wins against Melendez and Pettis. If Dos Anjos sticks to his game plan and stays technical, he should pick Alvarez apart, but he needs to avoid getting involved in a brawl.
When it comes to grappling, it’s a more clear advantage to Dos Anjos. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has shown time and again that he can dominate in top position, but the wrestling advantage goes to Alvarez. Alvarez has great, strong takedowns and incredible cardio. Dos Anjos’ best tactic in this fight may be to keep it standing by defending takedowns, but he’ll likely see where Alvarez wants to take the fight first and merely do the opposite of what his challenger wants to do. If Alvarez pressures and looks for takedowns, look for Dos Anjos to use clinch strikes and counter-striking, and if Alvarez wants to strike, look for Dos Anjos to take the fight to the mat. Dos Anjos is so well-rounded that he has the advantage of waiting and reacting, as opposed to trying to implement his own game plan from the start.
Alvarez is no stranger to five-round fights after being involved in numerous lightweight championship fights in Bellator. Dos Anjos has only had two five-round fights in the UFC so far and the last one ended early in the first round. There have been discussions and rumors about Dos Anjos possibly eventually moving up to welterweight and now that IV’s are illegal, it will be interesting to see how his weight cut affects his cardio, especially if the fight makes it into the championship rounds.
Depending on what happens in this title fight, the future of the UFC lightweight division could go a variety of different ways. A fight between Dos Anjos and McGregor is unlikely, regardless of what happens in the Diaz/McGregor rematch. With Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar fighting for the interim featherweight championship at UFC 200, McGregor will be forced to defend his belt against the winner after his rematch with Diaz, which leaves no room for another super fight with Dos Anjos. Khabib Nurmagomedov has been a top contender for years now, but has been plagued by injuries. His previous fight was in April at a catch-weight of 160 lbs, but he needs a big win in order to get a title shot. He could be next in line if Dos Anjos retains his belt, but so could Tony Ferguson. The simplest thing to do would be to have Nurmagomedov fight Ferguson for a title shot, but then where does that leave Nate Diaz? Diaz has already fought and lost to Dos Anjos, pretty convincingly nonetheless, but a second win over McGregor would propel him to superstar status if he hasn’t reached it already. Dos Anjos vs. Diaz 2 would bring a lot of attention, and could bring Dos Anjos some well-deserved respect if he defeats Diaz for a second time and keeps his belt. First thing’s first though, and Dos Anjos needs to focus on defeating Alvarez on Thursday night. If he keeps winning title fights, the notoriety will come soon enough.
Prediction: Dos Anjos defeats Alvarez via unanimous decision (49-46), (49-46), (48-47)