Rafael dos Anjos made as convincing a case as possible that he deserves a welterweight title shot.
The former lightweight champion won all five rounds over Robbie Lawler on the FOX network main event Saturday night in Winnipeg. Dos Anjos showed a well-rounded game including attacking the head, body and legs with strikes, mixing in takedowns, and going at a hard pace for five rounds without getting tired. He controlled the action so much that it appeared this Lawler was a very different fighter than the one who had the wars with Johny Hendricks, Rory MacDonald, Carlos Condit and Matt Brown in recent years.
Lawler vs. dos Anjos was advertised as a title eliminator. With his third win in six months, there was little question dos Anjos’ move to the higher weight class, where he’s naturally smaller than most opponents, was not a mistake.
But with champ Tyron Woodley undergoing shoulder surgery, it’ll be several months before this fight could take place. The more time before it happens, the more time there is for something else to happen. The reality is that no matter who deserves the shot, Woodley would still push to face Nate Diaz or Georges St-Pierre if either were willing.
dos Anjos strongly rebuffed any suggestion he face Colby Covington while Woodley was recovering. He clearly showed disdain for how Covington has attempted to market himself and said that Covington hasn’t been anyone of note, aside from Demian Maia.
The plight of dos Anjos is part of the never-ending issue of sport vs. business, where the latter almost always wins out. Diaz’s asking price looks like the reason the Woodley vs. Diaz fight fell through for Dec. 30. Dos Anjos questioned why Woodley would need to have surgery now and be out of action for months when he was willing to fight Diaz without having surgery.
The difference is Diaz and St-Pierre are coming off huge pay-per-view successes, while dos Anjos’ win headlined one of the lowest-rated FOX specials in the six years the network has been airing the promotion.
St-Pierre, still very clearly the greatest welterweight of all-time, could ask for such a title fight and would probably get it. For Woodley, it would not just be his biggest payday, but a shot for a victory that would increase Woodley’s star power and legacy like no other fight possible at this time. But St-Pierre has never asked for that fight.
So for dos Anjos, and the division, it’s now a waiting process.
Let’s look at how fortunes changed for five stars of Saturday night’s show.
RAFAEL DOS ANJOS – There’s not much more to say than Dos Anjos (28-9) vs. Woodley (18-3-1) is the fight that should be made. If it does fall through, and Woodley gets a bigger name opponent for his return, Covington (13-1) and Darren Till (16-0-1) would be opponents who are each on long undefeated streaks. But really, by the time that is to shake out, a lot of different welterweight fights will have taken place and a number of people could be ready to face dos Anjos with a shot at stake.
ROBBIE LAWLER – Given the length of Lawler’s career (16 years) and the amount of damage he’s taken in war after war, a performance like Saturday’s brings with it the obvious question as whether he’s slowed down a step. Jorge Masvidal (32-13) or Yancy Medeiros (15-4) are both opponents who would benefit from a fight with Lawler. They are also the type of opponents where you’d find out if it was just that dos Anjos was that good, or Lawler had a bad night, or he’s entered the time catching up period of what has been a noteworthy career.
JOSH EMMETT – Emmett’s first-round knockout win over favorite and perennial top five featherweight contender Ricardo Lamas would seem to make Emmett vs. Brian Ortega (13-0, 1 no contest) as the natural direction to go. The winner would have a strong case to face the winner of the expected Max Holloway (19-3) title defense against Frankie Edgar (22-5-1).
SANTIAGO PONZINIBBIO – Ponzinibbio (27-3) won his sixth in a row with a decision over Mike Perry (11-2) after recovering from a first-round knockdown. The win puts Ponzinibbio also in a situation where Covington or Till make sense for him, as would the winner of the upcoming Kamaru Usman vs. Emil Meek fight.
GLOVER TEIXEIRA – Teixeira (27-6) challenged light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier after finishing Misha Cirkunov with a choke in 2:45. Cormier pretty much agreed if he retains against Volkan Oezdemir on Jan. 20 in Boston. The problem with that is Alexander Gustafsson clearly beat Teixeira, Cormier does have a win over Gustafsson via decision in one of the greatest light heavyweight title fights of all-time. But unless Gustafsson isn’t ready after recent shoulder surgery, it’s hard to go with Teixeira in that spot. Teixeira should next face Jimi Manuwa (17-3).