When Rafael dos Anjos welcomed Kevin Lee to the welterweight ranks with a fourth-round submission in a competitive fight, it kept the former lightweight champion on a treadmill of sorts.
Dos Anjos (29-11) came into Saturday’s fight in Rochester, N.Y., as the third-ranked welterweight contender in the UFC. The problem is that his two losses in the division have been to Kamaru Usman (15-1) and Colby Covington (14-1). Both were able to out-wrestle dos Anjos and take five-round decisions over him. The expectation is that Usman and Covington will meet for the title, but the problem for dos Anjos is both beat him in similar fashion and in a manner that wouldn’t make anyone clamor for a rematch.
There’s always the option of moving weight classes. Dos Anjos was successful as a lightweight, with wins over the like of Benson Henderson, Nate Diaz, Anthony Pettis (who he won the title from), and Donald Cerrone all in a row. He lost the title to Eddie Alvarez and the chance for dos Anjos to get a shot at getting it back ended when Tony Ferguson won a decision over him. This version of dos Anjos is bigger and stronger than the other version, but he is small compared to a lot of welterweights.
One could argue that if the UFC was to open up 165 pounds as a division, that perhaps that would be dos Anjos’ best bet. With the added muscle, a move back to 155 would be more difficult to make. Unfortunately for him and Lee, there is no real movement toward adding a new men’s division. Cerrone moved back to lightweight after competing at welterweight. Cerrone didn’t do as well as a welterweight as dos Anjos has done. And that move back worked out well for Cerrone, since he’s back in the lightweight championship picture.
Even with the depth of talent in the lightweight division, it’s the weight class dos Anjos went the farthest in. Granted, current lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov also has a win over dos Anjos. It was the same story, a decision based on having superior wrestling. But it was also five years ago.
The flip side is that dos Anjos would be healthier over the long run at welterweight because it’s much easier to make weight. However, welterweight leaves his career at a standstill given who bested him and how they did it.
Let’s look at how Fortunes changed for five stars of Saturday night’s show:
RAFAEL DOS ANJOS - At welterweight, given that Tyron Woodley is injured and Covington and Usman are fighting each other, the best opponent for dos Anjos looks to be Santiago Ponzinibbio (27-3). But even with a win, it’s hard to say that gets him any closer to a title shot in the division.
KEVIN LEE - Lee’s move to welterweight didn’t go as planned. Lee (17-5) started out strong and was competitive for much of the fight, but tired as it went on and fell in the fourth round to an arm-triangle. If Lee is to stay as a welterweight, a good next opponent would be Vicente Luque (16-6-1) or Gunnar Nelson (17-4-1). But he’s another fighter who probably would have more succesd at lightweight.
FELICIA SPENCER - Spencer’s UFC debut couldn’t have gone better. She improved to 7-0, tapping out Megan Anderson (9-4) in a women’s featherweight fight. The problem of the women’s featherweight division, is that there is a champion who is really a bantamweight, and there is little competition beyond Anderson and Cris Cyborg.
Just because of that lack of depth, there was talk from that one win, that Spencer should face Cyborg (20-2, 1 NC) next. On one hand, it seems ridiculously early for such a match; on the other hand, there is nobody else for either of them unless UFC talks one of the bantamweights into moving up.
CHARLES OLIVEIRA - Saturday’s win for Oliveira (27-8, 1 no contest) was his fifth in a row, but his first using his fists as the finisher in more than a decade, dating back to when he was 19 years old. The UFC’s all-time submission king should next face either Justin Gaethje (20-2) or Paul Felder (16-4).
ASPEN LADD - Ladd (8-0) took the measure of Sijara Eubanks (4-3) via decision. Ladd should next face Ketlen Vieira (10-0). The winner of such a bout could easily be pushed for a bantamweight title shot against the winner of Amanda Nunes vs. Holly Holm. Vieira was in that category already when she was taken out of action with a knee injury. Another undefeated opponent Ladd could face would be Macy Chiasson (5-0).