In the corner of Rafael Dos Anjos between rounds one and two, head coach Jason Parillo could be overheard giving advice to his charge that revealed a remarkable strategy. “You’re seeing everything out there, you’ve just got to be a little bit busier,” Parillo told Dos Anjos as he prepared to send him back out to continue battling Kevin Lee in their UFC: Rochester main event.
“Let’s wear this guy down because we know in the later rounds he’s not going to have it. Alright, so we’ve got to make him work.”
The approach for Team Dos Anjos was clear – outwork and wear out their opponent with activity, confident that they would last longer than Lee, even though the Brazilian is nearly a decade older than the American and a grizzled veteran of now 40 professional MMA bouts. It was a bold plan, and it worked.
By the fourth round, Dos Anjos wore Lee down and was able to submit him via arm-triangle choke. Parillo explained Sunday to Yahoo Sports just how important it was to their strategy to make the much younger Lee work non-stop, offensively and defensively.
“That was everything,” he reveals.
“We knew the kid had only had gone five rounds one time before and to me the conditioning for that, as well as the experience of fighting for five rounds was going to be big. We knew he would tire out. I knew that he would tire out by the fourth or fifth round. I figured he’d run out of gas by the third.
“If you look at his fight with Tony Ferguson, he didn’t like the heat that was going on in there, he was gassing. In the fight with Tony he was doing well – he dropped Tony. But you could tell that Tony’s confidence and mental toughness broke the kid. So, I knew he could be broken.”
Lee and Dos Anjos are both former lightweights who fought one another a full 15 pounds up in class, at welterweight, this past weekend. Yet, Dos Anjos headed into the contest having already fought the best of the best at welterweight five times, while this contest was Lee’s first at 170 pounds.
“We also knew that Kevin was coming up in weight,” Parillo continues.
“We knew he would feel that 15 pounds. Rafa felt it when he moved up. In his first fight at 170 once the third round hit he felt it and had to get through it. He felt it even though he was a a smaller welterweight.”
Having confidence in their own man’s proven ability to go five full rounds, strong at welterweight, while also being certain that they’d catch Lee in transition as he adjusted to a new class and five-round bout parameter gave Team RDA a clear strategy, according to Parillo. “You’ve gotta be fighting every second, every inch of the fight,” he details.
“Sometimes you see guys go in there and go a little ADD on themselves – they don’t take advantage of a lot of positions they can score in. Rafa was hitting him on any angle he could. While he was defending the single and double he also looked for ways to be offensive. If the kid’s face was exposed, he was dotting it up.”
That plan was good in theory, but it’s still incredible that Dos Anjos was able to execute it perfectly, patiently, and with impressive quickness when needed, at age 34, which at lower weight classes can very often be well past a fighter’s career twilight. Parillo explains how Dos Anjos’ disciplined approach to life and training have likely helped keep him fresh and sharp.
“Well, yeah, you’ve got to understand that RDA is not a 34-year-old who lives the life of a fighter/wannabe rock star,” he says.
“He lives a very clean, clean life. After the fight, we celebrated with a beer last night. It was probably the first beer he’d had in a year. He doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t drink, and obviously he’s a very spiritual guy with a strong faith in God and Jesus and what not. He’s a family man, and for him family comes first.
“When I see a guy like that with 40 fights still fight the way he does, it goes back to the way he shows up in the gym. He trains all year round, he doesn’t get out of shape, he takes care of himself. That gives him the ability to go out there and extend himself in the fight.”
While Parillo admits that Dos Anjos needed the win against Lee, Saturday, he loves the position it puts the fighter within the welterweight title picture. Though he’d previously lost consecutive decisions to future welterweight champions Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington, Dos Anjos was competitive in both matches, and has now won four out of his last six engagements, including a victory over former welterweight title-holder Robbie Lawler.
Parillo is confident that Dos Anjos can beat guys like Usman and Covington, should he get another crack at them. Dos Anjos dealt well with another dominant wrestler in Lee, Saturday, taking him down four times, and wearing him down as he defended Lee’s own attempts.
“Rafa gave Usman a better fight than [former champion Tyron] Woodley did,” Parillo concludes.
“With that being said, the reason Usman and Covington got so many takedowns on him was because he got up so much. He was getting up against bigger, stronger wrestlers than Kevin Lee, over and over. I knew it would be difficult for Lee to get the takedown altogether. Rafa wore him down, even on the cage. I’m never a big fan of being on the fence because regardless who is scoring, some judges might only look at whose back is against the fence. But even against the fence, Rafa was laying on him, putting weight on him, wearing him down, and working him the entire time.”
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