Lightning Strikes Twice at UFC 185

Fightland Blog

By Dan Shapiro

Photos by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC

Rafael dos Anjos and Joanna Jedrzejczyk both walked away with some shiny new hardware on Saturday night.

The pair of underdogs pulled a couple of stunning upsets at UFC 185 to unseed former, and favored, champions Anthony Pettis and Carla Esparza, providing the MMA world with one of the most shocking, and entertaining, nights in recent memory.

It’s not the first time the UFC has welcomed two new champs on the same night, but unlike UFC 92, when Rashad Evans and Frank Mir dethroned Forrest Griffin and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, respectively, the aftermath of UFC 185 still hasn’t come close to settling in.

Heading into Saturday’s contest at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, Anthony Pettis was the UFC’s golden child. A well-spoken and well-coiffed frontman for the lightweight division, and the entire promotion, Pettis had that mass appeal that the UFC coveted so dearly as MMA inches closer toward the mainstream.

With Pettis’ image adorning Wheaties boxes along the grocery isles throughout America and his body covered in Reebok swag, UFC 185 was meant to be the now-former champ’s defining moment. It was, after all, his first main event since claiming the title in August 2013. And after his domination of Gilbert Melendez at UFC 181, Anthony Pettis looked primed to hold the lightweight title for quite some time.

And then along came dos Anjos, doing that “shock the world” thing that MMA fighters and promoters love to repeat to exhaustion. Only the way RDA dismantled Pettis was truly shocking; no one saw that coming.

Straight from the opening bell, dos Anjos dominated Pettis, landing straight punches to keep the former champ guessing. And unlike Melendez, who was unable to capitalize on takedown attempts, dos Anjos timed his double legs perfectly, dragging Pettis to the mat throughout the 25-minute contest.

Dos Anjos looked sharper and sharper in each round, and as the bout progressed, it became apparent that Pettis would not be coming back after eating an eye-swelling left hand in the first. Pettis, the poster child, was crumbling in front of our very eyes, while dos Anjos, the journeyman, the underdog who everyone wrote off, was emerging as a new champion.

Little did we know that he was putting together this career-defining performance on an injured MCL, making the win that more shocking.

Not since bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw topped Renan Barao in May 2014 has the UFC experienced such a high profile upset. And while Dillashaw may have been a larger underdog than dos Anjos, Saturday’s result carries a heavier impact, mostly because of Pettis’ stature and presence. When Barao fell from grace, he was still largely unknown to the rest of the world. Dos Anjos unseated one of the UFC’s more recognizable faces.

But dos Anjos was not the only underdog to shock and awe at UFC 185. Polish striker Joanna Jedrzejczyk pulled theatrics of her own to claim the women’s strawweight title from Carla Esparza’s clutches.

Also pegged as an underdog, Jedrzejczyk wasted no time, picking Esparza apart with precision, landing punches at will. And while there were questions about her takedown defense against Esparza’s wrestling, Jedrzejczyk thwarted the former champ’s advances, before landing the standing KO.

Perhaps there was no reason to doubt Jedrzejczyk’s ability in the first place. Having already beaten the highly ranked Claudio Gadelha, Jedrzejczyk, a former Muay Thai world champ, has demonstrated great sprawl and brawl tactics in the past, and her brief domination of Esparza just proves how deep the strawweight division is.

Jedrzejczyk’s arrival as the new 115-pound champ should be quite seamless. The MMA world is already lauding her reign.

But for dos Anjos, it will still take some time for those in and around mixed martial arts to adjust to the new regime, despite a stellar performance on Saturday. It also doesn’t help that dos Anjos will be sidelined for the time being while he rehabs his MCL.

But hopefully, by the time dos Anjos next steps inside the Octagon to face the winner of Donald Cerrone and Khabib Nurmagomedov, the shock will have worn off. And if it doesn’t, it’s only because of how brilliant dos Anjos was at UFC 185.


Check out these related stories:

Joanna Jedrzejczyk and the UFC’s European Revolution

How Rafael Dos Anjos Killed the King

Quick Results: Two New Champs at UFC 185