Two men who were once kingpins of their respective divisions will look to keep their momentum alive as they face-off in the main event of UFC on FOX 26. For the better part of a year and a half, both Lawler and dos Anjos were simultaneous atop the MMA world, looking unstoppable and defending their belts against all comers. This all came to a crashing halt in July of 2016, when two perennial contenders in Eddie Alvarez and Tyron Woodley respectively showed their power. Lawler and dos Anjos both lost in similar fashion; for Lawler, it was the famously powerful right hand of Woodley that sealed his fate. dos Anjos saw his reign end in similar fashion, with ‘the Underground King,’ former Bellator World Champion as well as star pupil of famed trainer Mark Henry, Eddie Alvarez, showcasing his crisp boxing and finishing skills by stopping dos Anjos in under one round.
Moving to present day, both men have reinvented themselves. dos Anjos is no longer with Rafael Cordeiro or Kings MMA, instead having built a team around himself. He looked to quickly correct his loss to Alvarez by taking on the man with the best cardio in the game at altitude when he fought ‘El Cucuy,’ Tony Ferguson. The fight was an indication that the man with the moniker of RDA could no longer safely cut down to get to the required weight and still have his power and cardio translate. Often fighters say that when they cut weight, their camps tend to be too focused on weight cutting and not enough on skill building and sharpening the tool set. Shortly after his decisive defeat to Ferguson, RDA announced he would move up in weight, a move some thought as a last-ditch effort to save a career on its last legs. This could not be further from the truth.
The rebirth of dos Anjos wasn’t on full display in his Singapore fight against then #11 ranked Tarec Saffiedine. Despite picking up the win in a fight where neither fighter really got much offense, dos Anjos asked for quick turnaround against #6 ranked fighter, Neil Magny. Despite giving up 5 inches on the feet and 10 inches in reach, he ran through Mangy with ease, unfettered and hardly breaking a sweat.
While dos Anjos was making a name for himself and building his new team around him, Lawler left the American Top Team HQ in Coconut Creek to relocate to another Florida-based club. With ATT teammates Jorge Masvidal and Colby Covington quickly climbing the ranks, Lawler may have felt out of place after getting KO’d by another ATT teammate in Tyron Woodley. Lawler ultimately joined up with former ATT rival coach and kickboxing world champion, Henri Hooft. He made his return 1 year later against fan-favourite Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone in one of the most highly touted fights of the year, and picked up a decision victory after an entertaining affair.
Entering Saturday, both men will have the opportunity to get closer to once again becoming a UFC Champion; all that stands in their way is an ever-improving former champion looking to make a statement. By all accounts, this fight was destined to be the title eliminator until the arrival to the scene of Lawler’s former ATT teammate, the braggadocios Covington.
Covington has been on a tear and recently picked up a decisive win over world #1 Demian Maia. To steal back the spotlight from the trash talking Oregonian, Lawler or RDA need a definitive finish, followed by a callout for the ages. By all accounts, Covington vs Woodley seems like the fight to make, but fans should still be salivating at the potential of a spectacle that can come out of the hands of these two fighters stepping into the octagon on Saturday.